Hundreds of regalia-clad dancers lined Willoughby Avenue behind Centennial Hall on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in preparation for Celebration 2022’s grand procession through the hall. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Hundreds of regalia-clad dancers lined Willoughby Avenue behind Centennial Hall on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in preparation for Celebration 2022’s grand procession through the hall. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Hundreds gather for Celebration grand procession

Regalia-clad dancers pack streets downtown as ceremonies open

Regalia-clad celebrants thronged through downtown Juneau Wednesday evening carrying drums, flags, paddles and more as they prepared for Celebration 2022’s grand entrance at Centennial Hall.

Hundreds of people packed Willoughby Avenue behind Centennial Hall as dozens of dance groups and community delegations lined the street waiting for their turn in a grand procession through the hall. While hundreds of brightly-dressed performers waited in the street, hundreds more came to watch the procession on the first day of the four-day festival. Spectators packed the sidewalks and the stairs and lawn in front of the State Office Building as dancers made their way into a back entrance to Centennial Hall and onto the performance stage.

Dozens of dance groups were lined up on Willoughby Avenue on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, getting ready for the grand procession through Centennial Hall for Celebration 2022. Many groups were dancing and singing well before they entered the hall. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Dozens of dance groups were lined up on Willoughby Avenue on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, getting ready for the grand procession through Centennial Hall for Celebration 2022. Many groups were dancing and singing well before they entered the hall. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Brandon Gomez, 19, and his brother Christian Gomez, 22, clad in leather vests, said they’re Tlingits from the Raven moiety, and though they live in Maryland, they try to visit Alaska every summer.

“We come here for every Celebration,” Brandon Gomez said.

Christian Gomez added : “Wouldn’t miss it.”

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Several groups have traveled from around the state for the festivities, and though Celebration is primarily focused on Alaska Native communities in Southeast Alaska, groups representing communities in other parts of the state were part of the procession. Some celebrants had regalia from Indigenous communities outside of Alaska.

Brandon Gomez, 19, was on Willoughby Avenue in downtown Juneau on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, and said he and his brother, both Tlingits, traveled from Maryland to be at Celebration 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Brandon Gomez, 19, was on Willoughby Avenue in downtown Juneau on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, and said he and his brother, both Tlingits, traveled from Maryland to be at Celebration 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Wednesday evening Pauline Johnson was getting her dancers, the Xootsnoowu Dachaxanx’i Yan dance group, ready for the procession. Johnson said the group’s name means “Grandchildren of Angoon,” and that they had come from Angoon for Celebration. Johnson said she had some concerns about COVID-19 in the gathering, but summed up her feelings about being at Celebration in one word, “excited.”

“We learn the same songs as the adults,” Johnson said of her mostly young dancers. “We have some elders here for support.”

Even before the procession started the street was filled with singing, dancing and drumming as groups practiced and some simply danced. Standing beside his mother and younger Spirit Strawn, 6, was practicing dance moves by himself with a paddle custom-built for his size.

“I dance at my school, it’s really fun,” Strawn said.

Of his regalia, Strawn said “it’s an eagle. I’m an Eagle,” to which his 2-year-old sister, Starlight Lanz, added, “I’m a pirate!”

Willoughby Avenue behind Centennial Hall was packed with hundreds of dancers on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, as dance groups lined up to make their way through the hall for Celebration 2022’s grand procession. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Willoughby Avenue behind Centennial Hall was packed with hundreds of dancers on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, as dance groups lined up to make their way through the hall for Celebration 2022’s grand procession. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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