Sealaska Heritage


<<back to blog page

Celebration 2018: Day 2

Only a few children attended the first Celebration in 1982, and Elders worried that the culture might not survive. But in recent years the presence of youth has become one of the most visible and vibrant elements of Sealaska Heritage’s biennial dance and culture festival, a tangible reminder of educators’ and families’ success in engaging their children in culturally-based learning. Thursday evening, two groups in particular shone a spotlight on the hard work being done to prepare youth to carry Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian traditions far into the future.

The first was a performance by Gaawt’ak.aan Dancers from Hoonah. Led by instructors Heather Powell and Carol Williams, who head the Haa Kusteeyí Áyá program at Hoonah City Schools, the young dancers in Gaawt’ak.aan (In the Lee of the North Wind) performed some of their own songs as well as traditional songs.

The group’s high-energy performance received an enthusiastic reception from the crowd, with audience members whooping and hollering their approval of the young dancers’ agility on stage. Some audience members placed money into the headband of one charismatic dancer near the front. 

“If you think that our culture is dying, remember this moment,” Williams told the audience. “These children are incredible.”

Immediately after the Gaawt’ak.aan Dancers, the Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy Program dancers filled the stage in red and black regalia. Called forward by TCLL language specialist Jessica Chester, students introduced each song in Lingít (Tlingit language).  They were joined on stage by two of the Elders who help teach them, Lillian Austin and Irene Cadiente, and by the Juneau School District’s Native Student Success Coordinator, Barbara Cadiente-Nelson. Nelson said the children in the group were an example of the success of culturally based learning, capable of inspiring lasting change in other communities.

“They are our ambassadors,” she said. “And they represent us so well…. Because of their success, because they are the sunshine in our hearts, these children will lead the parade on Saturday.” 

SHI partnered with the Juneau School District to found TCLL in 2003, and the district has since assumed funding for the program. Housed at Harborview Elementary, the program is made up of students in kindergarten through fifth grade. 

The role of youth at Celebration will continue to be showcased today with two events: a Toddler Regalia Review at noon at Centennial Hall and a Baby Raven Reads family event at 12:45 pm the Walter Soboleff Building. Everyone is welcome to attend both events. 

Dance performances run through 9:30 pm today in both venues, Centennial Hall and the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, and two performances are scheduled at Marine Park, at noon and at 4 pm. Special events include a regalia care workshop at the Walter Soboleff Building at 10 am, a Native Fashion Show at Centennial Hall at 6 pm, and poetry readings at 7 pm at the Walter Soboleff Building, as well as film showings at the Gold Town Theater. 

Celebration 2018 continues through Saturday, June 9. For more details, visit  (Photos by Nobu Koch)