Morgan Fawcett of Woosh.ji.een of Juneau dances in the Grand Entrance for Celebration 2018 along Willoughby Avenue on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Morgan Fawcett of Woosh.ji.een of Juneau dances in the Grand Entrance for Celebration 2018 along Willoughby Avenue on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sealaska’s Celebration is virtually ready to begin

Coronavirus concerns pushed the event online, to protect celebrants

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s biennial Celebration, held virtually this year, will begin Wednesday.

“Celebration is about celebrating who we are and the survival of our culture,” said Cemaleeda Estrada, SHI’s Celebration coordinator, in an email. “And while we cannot dance together in person this year, we wanted to still provide an opportunity to participate in and enjoy the many things Celebration has to offer.”

The decision to push the event online was made as the coronavirus outbreak began to spread. Anyone will be able to watch the four days of proceedings, either on the SHI Youtube channel or on TV on 360North. Celebration is typically a major gathering, as well as a large economic boon for Juneau, generating nearly $10 million in Juneau in 2018, according to a McDowell Group study.

“Our board of trustees had to make the hard decision to cancel the in-person event due to COVID-19 concerns and the potential spread, especially among our vulnerable villages and elders,” Estrada said. “However, we also know that in hard times like these, we need something positive to look forward to.”

With the Celebration moved online this year, Estrada said, there will be an in-person event held in 2021.

We changed our theme to reflect the situation we are now facing. The 2020 new theme is “Have Courage”, Estrada said. “The phrase is common in our culture, used to offer support to others in difficult times.”

The schedule will resemble previous Celebrations, with advantage being taken of the new format of the celebration, Estrada said.

“It will for the most part follow the same order as 2018 in terms of dance group performances, with new content plugged in along the way,” Estrada said. “New content will include a Juried Art Show and Competition, Toddler Regalia Review, an Indigenous Fashion Show, storytelling, awards for people of distinction and greetings from dance group leaders.”

Celebration was put together by more than 60 SHI employees, Estrada said. The new venue will allow for new ideas.

“While going virtual may have its setbacks, it also has its opportunities as it will allow us to reach many people beyond those who visit Juneau in person,” Estrada said. “It has allowed us to convert our normal programming while also incorporating new materials and ideas that we have never been able to offer before, such as storytelling.”

Have Courage, no need to travel

Celebration’s theme has been changed to reflect the pandemic that caused the every-other-year event to take place virtually. The new theme “Have Courage” is one that event organizer Cemaleeda Estrada said is common in the respective Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

Here is how it’s said:

• Tlingit—Yee gu.aa yax̱ x’wán (“Have strength and courage”)

• Haida—Gudangáang hl tláats’gaadaa (“Have courage”)

• Tsimshian—Smgit maamxsgism (“Stand strong”).

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or

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