Program Stories

WDN Members Visit ‘Celebration 2012’ to Learn About Native Alaskan Cultures

Members to learn about local history and sites of interest from Anthropologist and Sealaska Heritage Institute Executive Director Rosita Worl

WDN members will be going to Alaska this June to attend Celebration 2012, a biennial celebration of Southeastern Alaska’s native cultures.  We are lucky to count Celeste Worl among our members, and she and her mother, Rosita, have invited WDN’s members to share in this important cultural event.

A participant at Celebration. Photo courtesy of Austin Baker.

Celebration started in 1982, and was born of the fears among native communities in Alaska that their cultural traditions were disappearing.  They wanted to find a way to ensure that their traditional foods, songs, dances, and dress would be transmitted to subsequent generations.  The first celebration festivities were small, and there were not many children present, but they persisted because the goal was critical to the community.  Today, Celebration is one of the state’s largest events, and was attended by more than 5,000 people in 2010.

WDN’s trip will include Celebration activities as well as many optional excursions to be selected by the trip participants, including whale watching, a helicopter tour of the ice fields, a day cruise to the fjord Tracy Arm, hikes, and visits to area museums and places of cultural and historical significance.  Rosita Worl, Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) Executive Director and an anthropologist by training, has volunteered to take us on a day hike to sites of cultural and historical significance.

The most popular events at Celebration are the dance performances, which groups work on for months in advance.  Participants also spend a lot of time working on their regalia for the Grand Entrance and Grand Exit ceremonies, which bring all the native communities together.  The significance of this goes deeper than just the specialness of being together to celebrate their culture; it also creates opportunities to reproduce their cultures through creation of new regalia.  “Celebration is a reason to showcase your regalia and heritage,” according to Kathy Dye, SHI’s Director of Media and Publications.

Some of Celebration’s activities are new approaches to the county fairs of old, with art for sale and competitions for the best preparations of native foods such as black seaweed and soapberries.  Soapberries are tiny red berries found in northeast Alaska.  They are called soapberries because “when you whip them, it creates a red lather and looks like soap,” said Dye.  They are a little bitter, and so creative cooks find ways to make them sweeter and tastier.

The other popular events are the parade, the art show and competition, and lectures on local history and culture.  The event is meaningful for all generations.

“For young people, it’s important because they learn their traditional songs and dances.  The elders get to see the youth perpetuating the culture in a visible way,” said Dye.

Click here to learn more about Celebration.

If you want to register to come, contact Kathy Andreson at kandreson@womendonors.org or (415) 814-1333.