Celebration — the every-other-year gathering of Indigenous people in Southeast Alaska — kicks off Wednesday in Juneau.
Through Saturday, Lingít, Haida and Tsimshian people will participate in dances, arts markets, cultural demonstrations and the ever-popular toddler regalia review.
This year’s theme is “Celebrating 10,000 years of cultural survival.” Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl says the theme recognizes the many environmental, colonial, and pandemic-related challenges their people have overcome.
“We knew that we were going to survive that. I know our people suffered highly from it, but we still had the strong belief that we were going to survive and sure enough, here we are 10,001 years later and prospering,” Worl said
Indigenous people were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Alaska, accounting for nearly a third of the deaths from the virus. That included many elders and some of the last remaining Native speakers for several languages.
X̱’unei Lance Twitchell says more action is needed at the state level to help preserve Native languages.
“There’s probably 19 languages that are still going right now. And I think in about 10 years it will be down to maybe 10 unless we do something,” Twitchell said.
Official events begin with the dedication of SHI’s new Arts Campus. Worl says the facility will host classes aimed at preserving cultural practices and serve as the capital of Northwest Coast Arts.
“We’ve already had basket training classes there, we’ve had tanaa training classes there, we’ve also had the box drum training,” Worl said. “So it’s not even formally open but our people are so anxious to use it that they’ve run in there, pushed things aside. And that’s just the beginning.”
A new 360-degree totem pole will also be unveiled Wednesday. Worl says it’s the first of its kind in Alaska and represents the cultural values of the three main Alaska Native groups of Southeast Alaska.
Disclosure: KTOO is under contract with Sealaska Heritage Institute to produce video coverage of Celebration.