Every two years native people from the three dominant tribes in the region gather to promote cultural traditions in an event called Celebration.  Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people join together in a kind of big “family reunion” with dancing, drumming and singing – a wonderful display with everyone dressed in their tribal regalia.Celebration is an important venue for native people to strengthen their language and culture – oral traditions that were almost lost because of racism and attempts to eradicate their ways by both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Boarding schools were established starting in the late 1800s through the early 1970s where native children were taken from their parents, forbidden to speak their languages, use their tribal names, or wear any family symbols.  Life in these schools was harsh, in addition to the cruelty of assimilation.

Celebration is where speeches and introductions are given in Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian, with a short summary given in English.  The University of Alaska Southeast now offers a program in Tlingit language and the Hoonah school system just announced that Tlingit language training will be mandatory for all students.  Native culture is resurgent, but it’s tragic that it was almost lost because of racism.

Our favorite thing about Celebration is that it’s so inclusive – everyone participates, with particular emphasis on elders……and the young.These photos were taken during the Grand Entrance Parade – barely a preview of all the colorful regalia and different dancing groups that would perform over the next few days.Imagine all the hours of handwork that went into each piece of regalia – the weaving of mountain goat hair into these Chilkat blanket robes (the yellow and green above), the tanning and hand-sewing of elkhide moccasins, intricate beadwork, hand carved masks and decorative pieces for headdresses, and weaving cedar bark into patterned rainproof hats.We were very moved by this group of women parading with large photos of their ancestors – grandmothers and great-grandmothers to be remembered and honored.  One woman came over to us and shared the story of her grandmother and how cherished she was.  Very moving.And on the lighter side, not everyone wore regalia… this fellow was a big hit with the parade spectators!I’ll show more photos and some video from the dancing performances as well as the toddler regalia fashion show in the next post… stay tuned.

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