Bands of green northern lights ripple across the night sky

As a child growing up in Churchill, Jurnee Bignell would sit on the back deck of her house and whistle to the northern lights, waiting for them to dance for her.

© Madison Stevens

5/14/2020 8:01:24 PM

Dancing Spirits

By Jurnee Bignell, Student Intern

Fiction or fabricated, northern lights are filled with diverse stories from different countries around the world. Every story holds a sense of purpose and truth behind it.

In my culture, we hold the northern lights close to us as they are sacred to our past generations. I want to share my personal background of these indigenous beliefs as well as my own thoughts on the topic.

Indigenous peoples believed northern lights were to be interpreted as dancing spirits, often seen as fallen loved ones or animals dancing among the colors. My elders told me when I was growing up that if you whistled at the northern lights, they would dance for you. In Churchill, I would often find myself gazing at the lights, whistling and waiting for them to dance for me. On occasion they would, but it was a rare sight to see and I have to admit it’s hard to take your eyes off them when it happens. 

My grandfather was from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. He was the person who helped me find a deeper meaning and my own beliefs in all the stories I was told while growing up. After he passed on, I found a deeper respect for my culture and, ever since then, when I see the northern lights, they often feel surreal to me, as if I were looking for his dancing spirit. 

Spiritual beliefs are traditional in my culture. When an elder would pass on, we believed they had relations to an animal which made them connected souls, so it was believed that you could see the dancing souls in the appearances of animals in the colors, possibly a tribute to fallen loved ones.

While living in Churchill, I lived at the edge of the community and my house had a back deck that faced the bare, empty tundra. There wasn’t much light to interfere with seeing the northern lights clearly, so when I was a kid I used to sit on my back deck at the edge of Churchill and sing to the northern lights, waiting for them to dance. Occasionally they would, but only if I sang loud enough.

A bright phenomenon
Makes colors flow above
So we may walk beneath
Only to admire
But to keep looking up 

- Jurnee Bignell

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