Celebration 2018: Day 1
Thirty-six years after the first Celebration was held in Juneau at the urging of Elders, representatives of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people gathered on stage at Centennial Hall Wednesday evening to welcome thousands of dancers and visitors to Juneau, and to reflect on the continued evolution of an event that has come to be synonymous with Southeast Alaska Native cultural revitalization.
Speaking for the Tlingit Eagle clans, Shangukeidí Elder David Katzeek said ancestors were watching with pride to see how far their children and grandchildren had come.
“This is a long ways from 1982,” Katzeek said. “I want to thank those Elders that were with us back in 1982 that believed that this type of thing could happen. Our language and our ways are not dying. They are alive and well within us. Gunalchéesh.”
Ken Grant of the T’akdeintaan clan spoke on behalf of the Tlingit Raven clans.
“The spirit of your ancestors is shining through you with your songs and your dancing,” Grant said. “All your relatives that have gone before you, you’re wearing them right now and it has warmed our spirits. I’m speaking for the Raven clans, it has warmed our spirits,” Grant said.
Katzeek and Grant spoke primarily in Lingít in the ancient tradition of formal oratory, translating their remarks into English.
“When I woke up this morning, darkness was upon me, and now that I’ve looked amongst your faces, I see daylight. It was like the rising sun. It warmed my heart to see you,” Grant said in greeting.
Led by MC Albert Kookesh (Teikweidí), the welcome ceremony came immediately after more than 1,800 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian dancers filed down Willoughby Avenue and into Centennial Hall, passing across the stage as co-lead dance group the Shangukeidí sang a welcome song. The procession took more than 90 minutes, but the energy of the dancing and singing did not wane.
SHI president Rosita Worl, a Shangukeidí clan member who was among the singers on stage for the Grand Entrance, told the crowd she had been almost overcome by emotion while watching the dancers pass by.
“I can’t tell you how powerful it was to be able to watch the faces of our children as they came across that stage. There were times that I wanted to cry, the feeling of joy knowing that our culture is going to survive. We have lived on this land for 10,000 years…. And what I saw in the faces of our children tonight just tells me we’re going to be here for another 10,000 years and more. They carry within them the pride, the pride that was almost crushed in the dark history of our times. But it was our Elders who prevailed, and our artists who prevailed, our spiritual people who prevailed, our orators who prevailed, and said that our culture is worthy of survival. And tonight we’ve demonstrated to the world that our culture has survived and is flourishing. So to all of you, I thank you. I thank each and every one of you. Gunalchéesh.”
Sealaska Heritage organizes Celebration every even year with the support of major sponsor Sealaska and other donors. The four-day, dance-and-culture festival has grown to include associated events such as a Native fashion show, art market, food contests, juried art shows, lectures, and film showings, among other events. This year’s event began Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott (Tlingit of the Tsaagweidí Clan and Koyukon Athabascan of the Caribou Clan) said the dancing Wednesday night provided a dramatic visual representation of the four core cultural values that are so important to Southeast Alaska Native Peoples: Haa Aaní: Our Lanḏ; Haa Latseen: Our Strength; Haa Shuká: Past, Present, and Future Generations; and Wooch Yáx: Balance.
“You see them all on the Celebration stage,” Mallott said. “It makes our ancestors happy. It makes our ancestors beam with pride to see that 2-year-old (dancing across the stage), to know that we’re still dancing on their land…. We can live our values, we can teach our values, we can perpetuate our values, and it can start with Celebration, it can start with the feeling of love we have for our people, seeing them up on stage.”
Sealaska Board Chair Joe Nelson (Teikweidí) encouraged the crowd to reflect on the core values and on the Celebration theme of respect after the event was over to bring it into a personal context.
“Your actions need to align with your words, your values need to be aligned every day,” Nelson said.
The core values held by Native peoples, including a deep tie to and respect for the land, are all the more important in today’s world, he said, and could provide important inspiration for other cultures around the world.
“Now is a time when the world is really starving for more respect,” Nelson said.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (Tlingit, Kwáashk’i Kwáan) also highlighted the wider role of Alaska Natives throughout the state.
“We bring something powerful to Alaska’s future and we heard it this evening, we heard the drums, we heard the songs, we saw the beauty of the regalia…. It’s like the opening of a beautiful flower across our entire state. The plant is growing higher and higher and many, many more blossoms are blooming. It makes our state more beautiful, it makes our state richer.”
Mallott continued: “I can envision a half a century from now, my grandchildren, my oldest grandchildren, just becoming of the age where they can sit in the seats of the Elders. They will have spent a good portion of their life dancing.”
The welcome ceremony also highlighted the idea of all three tribes of the region – Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian – pulling together as one.
“That’s the value of this event. It brings us together as one,” said Robert Edwardson, speaking on behalf of the Haida People. “Each Celebration is a new chapter to that story. I’d like to welcome you to Juneau and I’d like to thank you for adding a chapter to that story.“
Speaking for the Tsimshian People, David A. Boxley (Laxskiik) offered his thanks to all three tribes for their strength and perseverance, and to the crowd for being there to celebrate with them.
“It is an honor to stand in front of you,” Boxley said. “We were here at the very beginning and hopefully we will continue to be here and make our people proud.”
Other events Wednesday included a ceremony for the Juried Art Show & Competition and Juried Youth Art Exhibit where winners were announced and a Weavers’ Presentation in the clan house. Thursday's dance performances run through 9:30 pm. (Photos by Nobu Koch)