Sealaska Heritage Institute (Juneau, AK)


   A dancer wearing the Sleeping Man mask onstage

A dancer wearing the Sleeping Man mask performs at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Celebration 2006. Photo by Bill Hess

In Juneau, Alaska, “Celebration” is a proper noun. It’s the only name that could describe the biennial festival that has shut down the entire town every other June since 1982. In FY 2006, the Sealaska Heritage Institute received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $40,000 to support Celebration 2006, a five-day event of indigenous art, dance, and culture.

The festival opened with the traditional Coming Ashore Ceremony. When the war canoes arrived at Juneau’s Marine Park, clan members announced their arrival in Tlingit and accepted a ceremonial drink of water. Then, symbolically dressed as ravens, eagles, whales, and other creatures, they began dancing to the beat of a ceremonial drum.

Celebration is a mix of educational events, entertainment, and contests. Organizers from Sealaska Heritage Institute chose the 2006 theme, “Reflections of our ancestors in the faces of our children,” because they wanted to emphasize the importance of passing on their cultural heritage. In keeping with the Sealaska Heritage Center’s language preservation work, Celebration 2006 included nine workshops in Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian. Participants were encouraged to continue pursuing language studies back home.

Contests at Celebration 2006 included black seaweed recipe judging and canoe races, and a traditional art market also featured work by more than 100 artisans. A gallery of Native-American art work, including masks, sculptures, and other works—most in vivid Northwest red, white, and black— were on display throughout the festival.

Celebration also drew dancers from across Alaska, as well as British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Washington state. About 1,500 dancers from 43 ensembles donned regalia to perform in Centennial Hall and march down the streets of Juneau in the closing parade. More than 5,000 people attended the Celebration 2006 events.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)