Celebration 2012 is officially underway. Southeast Alaska’s largest Native cultural gathering kicked off in earnest this morning (Thursday) with the Grand Entrance Procession in Juneau. KTOO’s Casey Kelly has more.

Hundreds of Native Alaskans gathered in downtown Juneau for the Grand Entrance for Celebration 2012.

Hundreds of Native Alaskans gathered in downtown Juneau for the Grand Entrance for Celebration 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Dozens of groups, decked out in Chilkat blankets, button robes and other Native regalia, made their way singing, dancing and drumming through Juneau’s Willoughby District from the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall to Centennial Hall.

Hundreds of spectators lined the parade route. Robert Sharclane, who grew up in Hoonah and now lives in Juneau, brought his kids.

“I’m half Tlingit, and it’s a fairly statewide, large and special event, and I just wanted them to participate in it and get an experience seeing it,” he said.

Sharclane’s nine-year-old daughter Pearl was wowed by the various dance groups.

“It’s cool to watch it and all the dresses they have,” she said.

Once all 55 groups made it into Centennial Hall, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Corporation officials formally opened the ceremony. SHI Trustee Clarence Jackson read a list of elders who have passed away since the last Celebration in 2010, including Dr. Walter Soboleff, the renowned Tlingit Presbyterian minister who helped found Sealaska Heritage Institute in 1980. Soboloeff was 102-years-old when he passed away last year.

Celebration was first held 30 years ago, after Sealaska Native Corporation founded the non-profit Heritage Institute to document and preserve the cultures and traditions of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. The event is held every other year and has expanded to include Native groups from outside Southeast Alaska.

Representatives from the Nisqually Tribe of Washington performed a traditional welcome song at the Grand Entrance.

SHI President Rosita Worl thanked all the dance groups, which she credits for making Celebration a success.

“We owe Celebration to our dancers. We owe Celebration to our ancestors. We owe Celebration to our children,” Worl said. “We know our culture is going to be strong and carry on for the next 10,000 years.”

This year’s Celebration events run through Saturday at Centennial Hall and other locations around Juneau. Organizers estimate 2,000 people will participate, with another 5,000 attending as audience members.

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