Video series shows seventeenth Celebration, more years to follow
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted on YouTube the video of Celebration 2014.
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 2014 event featured 50 dance groups from Alaska, the Lower 48 and Canada.
The 2014 theme was Envisioning the Future Through the Reflections of Our Past, which was chosen to honor the vision of our ancestors and historical Native leaders, wrote SHI President Rosita Worl at the time.
“They were truly visionaries as they saw that we must protect and maintain our traditional culture, but at the same time embrace the benefits that the Western society offered to us. Initially they battled to protect our land ownership in the face of Westerners who arrived on our shores seeking the wealth of our land,” Worl wrote in the Celebration 2014 program.
“Although they knew that we had ancient laws that governed our traditional society, our historical leaders almost instinctually understood that they must enshrine our rights in the new Western legal regimes that would govern our lives. They also knew that we must be part of the new society and therefore sought citizenship and the right to vote. They worked through the legislative system to secure the same rights as those enjoyed by other citizens. To their credit, they also worked to ensure that we maintained our traditional culture.”
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, email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.