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Celebration 2008: 26th year of the popular dance-and-culture festival


June 08, 2008

(SitNews) - The Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) kicked off its biennial Celebration on June 4th, marking the 26th year since the inception of the popular dance-and-culture festival.

Celebration was conceived in 1980 at the first Sealaska Elders conference. At that meeting, Elders asked Sealaska to help preserve and perpetuate the culture of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. In response, Sealaska founded the Sealaska Heritage Institute, and in 1982, the Institute organized the first Celebration. That first festival drew 12 dance groups and 150 people. Today, Celebration is one of the largest gatherings in Alaska.

Up to 5,000 people, including 52 dance groups and approximately 2,300 dancers from Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48, were anticipated to attend Celebration 2008, held in Juneau at Centennial Hall, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

jpg  Celebration 2008

Mt. Saint Elias Dancers, the lead dance group for Celebration 2008
Photo by Bill Hess, courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute

The festival will feature lectures by artists and authors, including one by Nora and Dr. Richard Dauenhauer on their new book "Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America, The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804," published by SHI and the University of Washington Press. Dr. Tom Thornton also will give a talk on his new book "Being and Place Among the Tlingit," published by the University of Washington Press in association with SHI. All three authors will do book signings immediately after. SHI also will release its first photo book of Celebration during the festival titled Celebration: Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian Dancing on the Land.

In addition, SHI will sponsor DNA testing during Celebration to determine if a young Native man who lived 10,300 years ago has living descendants in Southeast Alaska. Information from the DNA samples will be compared to DNA extracted from the remains, which were discovered by a paleontologist in 1996 in a cave on Prince of Wales Island.

Lead Researcher Dr. Brian Kemp from Washington State University and a team of colleagues will collect DNA samples from Native people in the lobby of Centennial Hall Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Kemp and his colleagues also spearheaded DNA research on the human remains, and their findings were reported last year in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Other events include a black seaweed contest, a Toddler Regalia Review for kids ages 2-4, a parade through downtown, language workshops, a Juried Art Show and a Native Artist Market

Winners of its biennial Juried Art Show and Competition were announced on June 4. Six artists took top awards at the fourth Sealaska Juried Art Competition in Juneau for best contemporary and traditional Native art. Thirty-nine pieces by 19 artists were selected by juror and artist Steve Brown for inclusion in the show, scheduled June 4-27. The Native Artist Market will offer Native art made by 45 Native artists. The market will be open for the duration of Celebration.

The winners, chosen by juror Steve Brown, an artist and expert on Northwest Coast formline, are:

Traditional Art

Best of Show- "Dawn of the Love Birds" Chilkat blanket by Anna Brown Ehlers
1st Place- "Tsimshian Bear Frontlet" by John Hudson
2nd Place-"Chilkat Frog" by Anna Brown Ehlers
3rd Place- "Man from Dundas" mask by John Hudson

Contemporary Art

Best of Show- "Woman of Justice" blanket by Della Cheney
1st Place- "Manifesting the Intangible" drum by Mike Dangeli
2nd Place- "Swimming Killer Whale" apron by Chloe French
3rd Place- "Yéil Taakw" by Shgen George

Thirteen other artists also were chosen to exhibit their work in the show. Those artists included:

Sophia Anderson
Vivian Benson
George Bennett, Jr
Jackie D'Canfango Kookesh
Dolly Garza
Norman Jackson (Kake)
Norman Jackson (Ketchikan)
Tommy Joseph
Deborah Mclavey
Malcolm Miller
Opal (Helgesen) Olsen
Jada Katherine Smith
Ivan Williams

The artist Norman Jackson of Kake passed away after he entered the contest, and he was recognized at the ceremony by SHI President Rosita Worl and Juror Steve Brown. Cheney, who is Jackson's sister, said he taught her about form line and weaving.

"I'm excited and happy I was recognized and my brother was recognized, and my brother's son is here, and he heard some of the wonderful things Steve Brown said about my brother," Cheney said.

jpg Soapberry Contest winner

Louise Gordon, Soapberry Contest winner
"You start at a slow speed with a beater. And then as the berries get thicker, you keep turning up the speed, and then you add your sugar at the same speed. And it just comes with experience."
Photo courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute

jpg second place

Doris McLean, second place Soapberry Contest
Photo courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute

jpg third place

Evanne Katasse-Roberts, third place Soapberry Contest
Photo courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute

Ehlers, who won Best of Show Traditional, also won 2nd place for her Chilkat weavings.

"I'm amazed because there's some beautiful, beautiful carvings and weaving here, I'm just very, very surprised and pleased," Ehlers said.

Their work will be on exhibit at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center through June 27. Many of the pieces are available for purchase.

SHI founded the biennial Juried Art Show and Competition in 2002 to promote the development of Southeast Alaska Native arts. To ensure an objective judging process, the names of the artists were not included with the photos of objects viewed during selection.

Dance performances and other events were scheduled June 5-7. The theme is "Tlingit, Haida Tsimshian Dancing on the Land."

SHI for the first time held a soapberry contest during Celebration. The institute awarded prizes for the top three best soapberries, a rare treat among Native people. Soapberries are tiny, bitter berries usually found near glaciers. People whip them into a froth and often add sweeteners. Preparation can be tricky, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

"You take a teaspoon of berries and whip it up and it will become a very large bowl of frothy ­ it looks like soap. But if you don't do it right, you're not going to be able to whip it up," said Worl, noting one of the goals is to introduce kids to traditional foods. "We hope this is one of the ways for our younger people to see this kind of specialty food we have."

Two people took top prizes for traditional-food contests at Celebration 2008. The winners of the first soapberry contest, seaweed throwdown were announced.

For the second Celebration in a row, Ivan Williams of Angoon won first place in the biennial black seaweed contest. Louise Gordon of Atlin, British Columbia, took first place in the institute's first soapberry contest. Experience played a large role in the award-winning soapberry entry, Gordon said.

"You start at a slow speed with a beater. And then as the berries get thicker, you keep turning up the speed, and then you add your sugar at the same speed. And it just comes with experience," Gordon said.
Other soapberry winners included Doris McLean, who won second place, and Evanne Katasse-Roberts, who took third place.

Second place for black seaweed went to Marian Adams, who won first place in 2004. Adams says her recipe is simple and the important thing is to dry seaweed soon after harvest.

"I just use clam juice. I think dry8ing is the most important ­ how you dry it. How you dry your seaweed ­ right away," said Adams, who is originally from Kake and lives in Juneau.

Third place went to C. Adams, Jr.

SHI awarded the top three winners $500, $250 and $100. The institute sponsors the contests to introduce young people to traditional Native foods and to highlight the health benefits of traditional Native cuisine.

The 2008 festival is sponsored by the following businesses, organizations and individuals: Sealaska Corporation, City and Borough of Juneau, National Endowment for the Arts, Carolyn M. Kleefeld, Kauffman and Associates, ConocoPhillips, Mary and Chris McNeil, Southeast Stevedoring, Wells Fargo, Boyer Towing, KPMG, Northwest Farm Credit Services, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller, & Moskowitz LLP, Pyramid Communications, Sealaska Environmental Services LLC, University of Alaska Southeast, GCI, Alaska USA Mortgage, Dan Laforce DBA/Tee Harbor Construction, Elgee, Rehfeld, Mertz, Law Offices of Simpson, Tillinghast & Sorensen, P.C., Managed Business Solutions, LLC, Phoenix Logging, PilieroMazza PLLC, Prochot Enterprises, Terra Verde, Inc., Tee Harbor Construction, Anthony and Linda Mallott, Rosita Worl, Lee & Louise Kadinger, Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., Alaska Litho, Columbia Helicopters, Inc., Doyon Limited, Eagle Capital Management, Holland America Line, Inc., Jensen Yorba Lott, Juneau Lions Club, Nicole Hallingstad, Rick Harris and Pat Tynan, Timko International Co., Samuel Landol, Marlene Johnson, Sandy Samaniego, SEARHC, Jacqueline Johnson, Marjorie Young, Jodi Mitchell, Sarah Dybdahl, Zachary Jones, Michael Obert, Juneau Electric, Koniag, Inc., Northern Sales Company Inc., Otis Elevator Co., Jeane Breinig, Ethel Lund, Nancy Barnes, Resource Data, Inc., William G. Demmert, Byron and Antoinette Mallott, Andrew Williams, Lola Foss, Deena LaRue, Barbara Thurston, Consulting Actuary, Clarence Jackson, Sr., Debi and Tate London, Creative Source, Joe and Belen Cook, Martin Neff DBA/ Bootlegger, National Assessment, R.D. Brown Co., Robert Martin, Jr., Stanley Eberhard, Joe and Mary Nelson, Sidney Edenshaw, Walter Soboleff, Competitive Edge Office Systems, Inc., JUSTGIVE/Dreimer, Advanced Janitorial.


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Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)


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Ketchikan, Alaska