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Video series shows fourth Celebration, more years to follow

Aug. 26, 2021

(About Celebration) (Watch

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted online video of Celebration 1988. 

Celebration is 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.

Celebration 1988 was the fourth Celebration SHI hosted. It was the largest Celebration in the 1980s, featuring 26 dance groups, speeches and stories from prominent Elders and a visit from the Oglala Lakota Olympian Billy Mills.

A Native Hawaiian and an Athabascan dance group joined the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian dance groups at this Celebration, marking the event as a multicultural gathering of Indigenous groups across Alaska and beyond.

“By 1988, we not only began to see our own people flocking in large numbers to Celebration but people from other cultures as well,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “This really marked the beginning of our goal to promote cross-cultural understanding.”

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 by 2022. Celebration 2018 was the first Celebration posted on YouTube in its entirety in 2019.

The program covers for Celebrations 1982-1988 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 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.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,