Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_Sealaska Heritage digitizes, posts Celebration 2004

<<back to news page


Video series shows twelfth Celebration, more years to follow

April 28, 2023

(Watch) (About Celebration

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has digitized and posted on YouTube video of Celebration 2004.

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 2004 event featured 43 dance groups from Alaska, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Lower 48 and Canada.

Celebration 2004 featured two guest dance groups: the Rangimarie Maori Dancers, billed as one of New Zealand’s best Maori performing groups, and the Alaska Hawaii Exchange Dancers.

The spokesperson for the Alaska Hawaii Exchange Dancers said their visit to Celebration followed a trip by 15 Tlingit youth from Sitka and Juneau to Oahu in early 2004.

“Now our children have come here to learn the Tlingit culture,” she said.

The group performed an ancient chant, and the spokesperson told their origin story, which involved Sky Father, Earth Mother and their daughter, Stars of Heaven.

“Through the story, children learn that we are very connected to the plants, earth and sky,” she said.

Celebration 2004 also featured a growing number of associated events, including a black seaweed contest, a Juried Art Show and Competition, Native art workshops, a language fair, canoeing events and a story telling forum.

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. 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,