Wrangell dancers show their pride at Celebration

Centennial Hall in downtown Juneau filled with energy June 5 as Alaska Natives from all over the state paraded through, singing, dancing and wearing their regalia with pride.

This was the grand entrance for Celebration, the Alaska Native cultural festival held in Juneau every other year, put together by Sealaska Heritage Foundation

Dakhká Khwáan Dancers (People of the Inland) from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, led the Grand Entrance on the first day, lining the stage as they kept singing and drumming for nearly two hours while a steady stream of other dancers paraded across the stage.

Among the dance groups that participated in the Grand Entrance were two dance groups from Wrangell: Wrangell JOM Kaasitlaan (Old Willow Town) and Ḵaachx̱an.áak'w.

The festival continued with three full days of events that included dance performances from groups from all around the state, a Native artist market, storytelling events, a film festival, fashion show, food contest and more.

An estimated 1,600 attended this year's gathering, with 36 dance groups.

The two dance groups from Wrangell performed multiple times, in both Centennial Hall and Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall nearby, for 30 minutes at a time in front of hundreds of people. Their voices and drumming carried over the crowds as they performed, the pride visible on each of the dancer's faces as they represented their community.

The Wrangell JOM group told a story about a fishing camp through their performances, while Virginia Oliver narrated and helped direct the younger dancers.

Ḵaachx̱an.áak'w performed songs the group had chosen, with different members from the group approaching the microphone before each song to explain its significance.

Valerie Massie, who performed with both groups, said dancing this year at Celebration was one of the greatest honors of her life. "I felt proudest watching community members come back to themselves," she said. "I saw those who have kept these songs, traditions and culture alive in Wrangell relax a little, with the relief that they have helped to pass it on through generations."

"Celebration is a time to embrace and deepen our ties to our culture," Corey Marsden said, who performed this year for the first time since 2012 and plans on being part of every Celebration in the future. Marsden also participated in the canoe journey from Wrangell to Juneau, and said that to him, every day along the journey felt like a celebration.

During the final song of Celebration, scholar Xʼunei Lance Twitchell from the University of Alaska Southeast spoke to the crowd: "You're already the dream of your ancestors. Just do the thing that you have in your heart which is kindness and love for yourself and others."


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