Video series shows fifteenth Celebration, more years to follow
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted on YouTube the video of Celebration 2010.
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 2010 event featured 51 dance groups from Alaska, the Lower 48 and Canada.
The theme for Celebration 2010, Our Land—Haa Aaní in Tlingit, Íitl’ Tlagáa in Haida and Na Yuubm in Sm’algya̱x (Tsimshian), was chosen in light of Sealaska’s struggle to secure its land entitlement through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. That battle was still ongoing during Celebration 2010.
“We wanted to emphasize to our own people and remind others that this is our land, we’ve lived here for ten thousand years, and we intend to live here for another ten thousand years,” SHI President Rosita Worl said at the time.
Sealaska spent millions of dollars over many years trying to claim the rest of the land it was promised under ANCSA. The regional Native corporation worked with Congress and held more than 300 meetings across Southeast Alaska to reach compromises with residents, local governments, industry representatives and others to claim the remaining 70,075 acres from the Tongass National Forest that it was owed.
Southeast Alaska is the ancient homeland of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian and spans 22 million acres. With the final transfer in 2015 to Sealaska, the corporation’s land base totaled 360,000 acres, a small fraction of their ancestral land.
Celebration also included contests for best soapberries and seaweed, a parade through Juneau, a Native Artist Market, a Toddler Regalia Review and lectures—including one from Molecular Anthropologist Dr. Brian Kemp of Washington State University, who summarized the results of a DNA study conducted at Celebration 2008.
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. Another goal was to use the footage to learn about traditional oratory, a skill mastered by Southeast Alaska Natives.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Cover art on Celebration program by Robert Davis Hoffmann. Note: Media outlets are permitted to use this image for coverage of this story. For a higher-res image, contact email@example.com.