Celebration, the every-other-year gathering of Indigenous people in Southeast Alaska, kicked off Wednesday in Juneau.
Through Saturday, Lingít, Haida, and Tsimshian people will participate in dances, arts markets, and cultural demonstrations.
This year’s theme is “Celebrating 10,000 years of cultural survival.”
Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl says the theme recognizes the many environmental, colonial and, more recently, pandemic-related challenges their people have overcome.
“We knew that we were going to survive that. I know our people suffered highly from it, but we still had the strong belief that we were going to survive and sure enough, here we are 10,001 years later, and prospering.”
Indigenous people were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Alaska, accounting for nearly a third of the deaths from the virus. That included many elders and some of the last remaining Native speakers for several languages.
X̱’unei Lance Twitchell says more action is needed at the state level to help preserve Native languages.
“There’s probably 19 languages that are still going right now. And I think in about ten years it will be down to maybe ten, unless we do something.”
Official events began with the dedication of the institute’s new Arts Campus.
Worl says the facility will host classes aimed at preserving cultural practices and serve as the focal point of Northwest Coast Arts.
“We’ve already had basket training classes there, we’ve had tanaa training classes there, we’ve also had the box drum training. So, it’s not even formally open but our people are so anxious to use it that they’ve run in there, pushed things aside. And that’s just the beginning.”
There’s also a new 360 degree totem pole. Worl says it’s the first of its kind in Alaska and represents the cultural values of the three main Alaska Native groups of Southeast Alaska.
The Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, CA is bringing cast and crew of the Peacock series “Rutherford Falls” to its casino on Thursday.
The event is for the Native community with a focus on Native youth. More than 100 Native youth from across Southern California are expected to attend. They’ll be able to walk the red carpet and get a sneak peek of episodes before the new season premieres next week.
Youth will also hear from actors, directors, and writers. Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro says the event gives young people an opportunity to learn about the television and film industry.
“To be able to engage cast and crew members on both sides of the camera and talk about career opportunities, have Rutherford on the rez, and engaging youth to do a Q and A that was something that really appealed to us.”
“Rutherford Falls,” a comedy about two friends, features Native actors, writers, and producers. Macarro says Native representation matters.
“That can take a narrative that is not distorted and really begin to take and craft a narrative that is more in line with how I believe Indian tribes think the narrative should be when they’re talking about Indian people, Indian communities, tribes across the country.”
The second season of “Rutherford Falls” premieres on June 16.
This week, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians in Minnesota celebrated the return of reservation land.
The Band purchased more than 28,000 acres from the Conservation Fund. According to the Band, it’s the largest restoration of its reservation since the allotment era.
The land was taken by the federal government more than 100 years ago and sold to timber companies and homesteaders.
Plans are underway for the Band to manage and conserve the land while balancing economic and cultural benefits for the Band and its members.
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