Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: April 10th, 2023

Video series shows tenth Celebration, more years to follow


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted on YouTube video of Celebration 2002.

Celebration is a dance-and-culture festival first held by SHI in 1982 that has grown into the world’s largest gathering of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. The 2002 event featured 34 dance groups from Alaska, the Lower 48 and Canada.

Celebration 2002 marked the first time SHI sponsored its Juried Art Show and Competition, which was part of an effort to encourage and enhance the creation and production of Southeast Alaska Native objects of artistic value which have fallen into disuse and are becoming rare; to stimulate and enhance the quality of artistic work among Native artisans; and to encourage the development of new forms of art of purely Southeast Alaska Native form and design.

The event has grown into one of the institute’s most popular programs, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We have seen such growth among our artists and some very high caliber pieces accepted into the Juried Art Show over the past 21 years, so I think it has been a tremendous success,” Worl said.

In the first competition, the late Chilkat weaver Clarissa Rizal (then Hudson) won Best of Show for her Chilkat robe Copper Woman and Tlingit artist Richard Beasley took First Place for a shakee.át.

Celebration 2002 also marked the first time SHI sponsored a food contest. In that first one, people competed for best black seaweed, a delicacy among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian that has medicinal properties. In later years, SHI added contests for best soapberries, seal oil and dry fish.

SHI also hosted a Hawaiian dance group, Kamehameha Schools Hawaiian Ensemble, which proved to be a huge hit at Celebration.

SHI sought grants to digitize and share past Celebration tapes so the footage could be used as a resource for dance groups wanting to learn from past performances, language learners wanting to hear Elders speaking, people wanting to learn more about their culture and to teach others about Southeast Alaska Native cultures.

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

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.óow (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 11,000 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: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

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