Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: May 31st, 2023

Video series shows sixteenth Celebration, more years to follow


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted on YouTube the video of Celebration 2012.

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 2012 event featured 55 dance groups from Alaska, the Lower 48 and Canada.

Celebration 2012 marked the 30th year since the inception of the event, which is largely credited with sparking a renaissance of Native cultures in Southeast Alaska.

The theme of Celebration 2012—Strengthen Yourself—was inspired by our core cultural values, Haa Latseení or “Strength of Body Mind and Spirit” in Tlingit (Haida: Íitl’ Dagwiigáay; Tsimshian: Na Gatlleedm), said SHI President Rosita Worl.

The theme was selected to remind our community of the traditional cultural practice of rigorous physical training Native youth endured to protect and live up to the expectations of their clans and villages. The teachings and codes were designed to give rise to a rich and viable society, which ultimately contributes to cultural survival, Worl said.

Along with dance performances, it featured associated events, including a Juried Art Show and Competition, Native Artist Market, Native Artist Gathering, seaweed and soapberry contests, Toddler Regalia Review, film screenings, workshops, lectures and parade—with the addition of eight canoes—through downtown Juneau.

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.

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,

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

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