Nearly 1,600 dancers from 36 Indigenous groups wait to dance for the Grand Entrance of Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Nearly 1,600 dancers from 36 Indigenous groups wait to dance for the Grand Entrance of Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Celebration 2024 opens ‘stronger than ever’

Nearly 1,600 dancers take part in Grand Entrance ceremony as four-day Indigenous gathering begins.

This year’s Celebration theme, “Together We Live in Balance,” was demonstrated through song and dance at the traditional Grand Entrance by nearly 1,600 dancers at Centennial Hall on Wednesday evening.

“Together, we live in balance,” said Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute. “That came from our core cultural value of social and cultural balance. That is the value that has made us so strong that we have been able to live here on this homeland, no matter what has happened to us, and we are stronger than ever. You are my inspiration — my children, our children of the future.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl thanks the Alaska Federation of Natives president Julie Kitka. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl thanks the Alaska Federation of Natives president Julie Kitka. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers (People of the Inland), a Tlingit group based in Whitehorse, Canada, led the Grand Entrance for the first time since the group initially performed at Celebration in 2008. They will also lead the Grand Exit on Saturday, which will be held at 5 p.m. at Centennial Hall.

[Celebration 2024 mixes decades of tradition with new events]

In February, the Alaska Federation of Natives announced that longtime president Julie Kitka is stepping down before the fall convention. Kitka was nominated by Alaska’s congressional delegation to be a new co-chair of the Denali Commission.

Kitka was elected as AFN president in 1990, but she joined the organization years earlier.

At the Grand Entrance of Celebration, Kitka was recognized by Indigenous leaders for her contributions to AFN such as fulfilling the goals of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

“I could not have done half of the things we did at AFN if it wasn’t for the support of the people,” Kitka said. “I’ll never forget some of the support that people came and how people came together. If there is one thing that I can convey to people, it is that we’re stronger together.”

Avery Herrman-Sakamoto dances for Celebration’s Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Avery Herrman-Sakamoto dances for Celebration’s Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Celebration will continue through Saturday with the schedule of events including a midday cultural orientation by Worl that will include a viewing of historic Chilkat weavings, an afternoon toddler regalia review, a food contest and fashion show, and a parade downtown. There will also be dancing at Centennial Hall, a Native Artist Market at the SHI Arts Campus and other events throughout each day of the gathering.

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl smiles while welcoming both dancers and the audience to the start of Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl smiles while welcoming both dancers and the audience to the start of Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, a professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, leads the Grand Entrance song. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, a professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, leads the Grand Entrance song. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Fran Houston, spokesperson for the Áak’w Kwáan, drums at Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Fran Houston, spokesperson for the Áak’w Kwáan, drums at Celebration. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Jamiann Hasselquist waves the flag for Murdered and Missing Indigenous People at Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Jamiann Hasselquist waves the flag for Murdered and Missing Indigenous People at Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Native veteran Marvin Kadake rises from his wheelchair to dance on stage for the Grand Entrance, receiving heavy applause. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Native veteran Marvin Kadake rises from his wheelchair to dance on stage for the Grand Entrance, receiving heavy applause. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Native veteran Marvin Kadake arrives on stage in his wheelchair during the Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Native veteran Marvin Kadake arrives on stage in his wheelchair during the Grand Entrance. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

(Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

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