Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_Sealaska Heritage digitizes, posts entire Celebration 1982 online

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Video series shows first Celebration, more years to follow

Feb. 4, 2021

(About Celebration) (Watch)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and put online video of its premiere 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 on a now-obsolete video platform, is now viewable for the first time in decades on SHI’s YouTube channel.

Through the project, SHI has resurrected old footage of one of the most important events in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures in modern times, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“Celebration marked the first time all three tribes came together under one roof to show our cultures to the public. We had come out of an era of oppression, and at that first event, we were telling the world that our cultures had survived,” Worl said.

The first series includes performances by 16 dance groups documented over three days in February 1982 in Juneau. By 2022, SHI plans to digitize the rest of the Celebrations, which comprise more than 1,000 hours, and put the footage online.

The videos will be a treasure trove for Native people studying previous performances, oratory, Native languages and regalia and for scholars researching Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures, Worl said.

The program covers for Celebrations 1982-1986 were illustrated by Cecilia Jorgensen. 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: Democracy demands wisdom and by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant NG-03-15-0022-15. 

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,

Caption: Program cover for Celebration 1982 designed by the late Carol Jorgensen, who created art for the first three programs. Jorgensen, whose designs are still used on current Celebration banners, was very active in Native issues and served as grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Note: News outlets are welcome to use the image in association with coverage on this story. For a high-resolution version, contact