Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: July 12th, 2021

July 12, 2021

(About Celebration) (Watch)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted online video of its third Celebration, a dance-and-culture festival first held in 1982 that has grown into the world’s largest gathering of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.

The entire event, which was documented in 1986 on now-obsolete video tapes, is viewable on SHI’s YouTube channel for the first time.

Celebration 1986, held in Juneau November 20-22, featured dance performances from 19 different groups, speeches by prominent Elders and a Tlingit play.

“As we’ve digitized and uploaded this series, starting with Celebration 1982 in February of this year, you can see that the event continued to grow and develop as Native people formed new dance groups—which was itself a new concept, as traditionally only clans sang clan songs. You can witness the evolution and expansion of Celebration through these videos,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

The videos are a resource for Native people studying dancing, oratory, Native languages and regalia and for scholars researching Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures, Worl said.

Comments on past Celebration releases also show that the videos have been a way for people to see family and clan members who are now passed.

The rest of SHI’s Celebration footage, up through Celebration 2016, will be posted online by 2022. Celebration 2018 was the first Celebration posted on YouTube in its entirety in 2019.

The program covers for Celebrations 1982-1986 were illustrated by the late Carol Jorgensen, who was very active in Native issues and served as grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Her designs are still used on current Celebration banners.

The Celebration: 10,000 Years of Cultural Survival project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

About Celebration

SHI held the first Celebration in 1982 at a time when the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian were in danger of losing knowledge of their ancient songs, dances and stories and the meaning behind the crests depicted on their regalia and clan at.óowu (sacred objects). It was held at the urging of Elders, who worried the cultures were dying after a period of severe oppression, during which time Native people did not sing their songs and dance their dances in public. The first Celebration was meant to underscore the fact the cultures had survived for more than 10,000 years.

The event proved to be so profound, SHI’s board of trustees decided to sponsor Celebration every other year in perpetuity. Celebration sparked a movement that spread across the region and into the Lower 48 — a renaissance of Southeast Alaska Native culture that prompted people largely unfamiliar with their own heritage to learn their ancestral songs and dances and to make regalia for future Celebrations. Today, Celebration is one of the largest events in Alaska, drawing thousands of people to the four-day festival, including thousands of children.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,

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