Celebration 2024 participants dance across and around the main stage at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony Saturday evening. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Celebration 2024 participants dance across and around the main stage at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony Saturday evening. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Celebration 2024 ends four days of traditional and new events with a Grand Exit

Participants combine thunderous tribute to heritage with spirit of an intimate family gathering.

A get-together of nearly 1,600 dancers, their family and friends, and others sharing their heritage hardly qualifies as a small intimate gathering. But Leandrea Makaily, who’s attended all but two biennial Celebrations during the past quarter century, said this year’s four-day event had the feel of a closer-knit occasion.

“I used to say it grows every year, but this year it was a little smaller,” she said after exiting Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. “It was a little bit more intimate which I felt like was really important so we can see everyone and get to know everyone, and greet and make sure everyone feels welcome.”

Leandrea Makaily, a Juneau resident, performs a few final dance steps while exiting the main ballroom at Centennial Hall at the end of Celebration on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Leandrea Makaily, a Juneau resident, performs a few final dance steps while exiting the main ballroom at Centennial Hall at the end of Celebration on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

At the same time, the 36 Indigenous groups gathered were a thundering presence in Juneau from the time two groups of traditional canoes arrived the day before the official start of Celebration to the two-hour Grand Exit where all of the dancers proceeded through a beyond-capacity audience that spilled out beyond the main ballroom at Centennial Hall.

“The voices of our ancestors are being heard as we are here today,” said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, in a speech that roused the crowd just before the final group of dancers exited the stage during the ceremony. “And the voices of our ancestors we know will be heard in generations and thousands of years to come. They were carrying the voices of our children — did you not hear the voices of our ancestors in their songs?”

“Were you not amazed when you saw our elders get out of their wheelchairs and dance across the stage? They got out of their wheelchairs and they danced just like they were 19 years old. We are strengthened by the wisdom that they have brought to us. Did you not see the unity of our people?”

A capacity crowd cheers dancers as they pass through the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A capacity crowd cheers dancers as they pass through the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Makaily, 29, a Juneau resident, was with about 20 family members —with multiple tribal ancestries — at this year’s event. In addition to being among the longtime Eagle Raven Dancers, she also helped backstage with a Native fashion show on Friday that was among several new events this year.

“The models were amazing, the artists were even better,” she said. “You felt so honored just to be asked to help with that.”

Another notable first was the debut of a Chilkat LGBTQ+ “Weaving Our Pride” robe woven in a cooperative project for the past year. The distinction of being the first person to dance in it during Celebration went to Káasgéiy/Kushxheet.éesh, who opted to go only by his Tlingit name while wearing it during the Grand Exit ceremony.

The wearer of 2024 Chilkat LGBTQ+ “Weaving Our Pride” robe, revealed for the first time at Celebration, prepares to enter Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The wearer of 2024 Chilkat LGBTQ+ “Weaving Our Pride” robe, revealed for the first time at Celebration, prepares to enter Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Of the Eagle moiety and identifying as a two-spirited person, the Juneau resident who came from Angoon and Klukwan said he was honored to be the first to dance in the robe.

“This is my first year dancing male dance, not by the woman’s side, not by my mother’s side, but with the men and with the boys,” he said. “This is a huge step in not only my transition, but identity as a two-spirited person. But communitywise, I feel like it adds to this space for queer Indigenous people, and it allows that to be present and to be welcomed and then to be celebrated. And that, in itself, is amazing.”

The Chilkat robe was first started in July 2023 by Lily Wooshkindein Da.áat Hope, a Tlingit weaver and fiber artist. A Ravenstail Pride robe continues to be worked on at Zach Gordon Youth Center by the six mentor weavers who wove the Chilkat.

After completion, both robes will be kept at Zach Gordon Youth Center as a permanent wearable art piece, to be worn only by youth.

Luella Tumlak, an Anchorage resident, wears clothing made by her grandmother and regalia from her father as she exists the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during Celebration’s Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Luella Tumlak, an Anchorage resident, wears clothing made by her grandmother and regalia from her father as she exists the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during Celebration’s Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The variety of regalia worn by other Celebration participants was both an overpowering collective statement while helping individuals stand among the crowd.

Luella Tumulak, 15, of Anchorage, said her father in Yakutat couldn’t be among the family members at Celebration because he had to work. But she got to meet plenty of people who knew him since, in addition to garments made by her grandmother, she was also wearing distinctive items of her father’s that were easily recognized, including a red Raven frog robe that had — among other things — a screw attached near the collar that might suggest the persona of a handyman, although Tumulak said she couldn’t say for sure.

“My dad’s all over the place,” she said. “It could represent many things.”

Tumulak’s cap was adorned densely with hanging green tassels representing seaweed, with the beads on the threads holding the tassels representing water. She said she’s been coming to Celebration as long as she can remember — the first of those being at the age of four — and so now a blanket she wore at previous Celebrations was worn by her younger sister this year.

Srivani Brown from Yakutat, 2, drums during the Grand Exit for Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Srivani Brown from Yakutat, 2, drums during the Grand Exit for Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The lead dance group for this year’s Grand Entrance and Grand Exit was the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers (People of the Inland), a Tlingit group based in Whitehorse, Canada. At the end of the Grand Exit, it was announced the lead dance group for the 2026 Celebration will be the Lepquinm Gumilgit Gagoadim (“Our Own Dance in Our Hearts”) Tsimshian Dancers, described as “a multi-generational Southeast Alaska group based in the Anchorage area” co-founded in 2005 by two Metlakatla residents.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306. Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

More photos from the Grand Exit ceremomy at Celebration 2024

The Ts’maay dance group waiting their turn outside Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Ts’maay dance group waiting their turn outside Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Mt. Fairweather dance group before entering Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Mt. Fairweather dance group before entering Centennial Hall for the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Woosh.ji.een dancers outside during the Grand Exit of Celebration on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Woosh.ji.een dancers outside during the Grand Exit of Celebration on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Selkirk Spirit Dancers dance outside during the Grand Exit on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Selkirk Spirit Dancers dance outside during the Grand Exit on Saturday evening. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Nearly 1,600 Celebration dancers spent nearly two hours proceeding through the main ballroom of Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Nearly 1,600 Celebration dancers spent nearly two hours proceeding through the main ballroom of Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Cerebration participants cross in front of the main stage during their Grand Exit on Saturday evening at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Cerebration participants cross in front of the main stage during their Grand Exit on Saturday evening at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dancers from multiple generations join side-by-side during the Grand Exit ceremony at Celebration on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dancers from multiple generations join side-by-side during the Grand Exit ceremony at Celebration on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dancers depart the main ballroom during the Grand Exit ceremony marking the end of Celebration on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dancers depart the main ballroom during the Grand Exit ceremony marking the end of Celebration on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The final dancers exit the ballroom at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony to end Celebration on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The final dancers exit the ballroom at Centennial Hall during the Grand Exit ceremony to end Celebration on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A video technician monitors the cameras providing a livestream of Celebration during the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A video technician monitors the cameras providing a livestream of Celebration during the Grand Exit ceremony on Saturday night at Centennial Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Joe Nelson, board chair of Sealaska Corp., thanks organizers and participants at the end of the Grand Exit ceremony for Celebration at Centennial Hall on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Joe Nelson, board chair of Sealaska Corp., thanks organizers and participants at the end of the Grand Exit ceremony for Celebration at Centennial Hall on Saturday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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