Celebration up for grabs

Sealaska Heritage Institute will consider other communities

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2004

Celebration - one of Juneau's largest and most lucrative events - may be leaving town.

Juneau's Sealaska Heritage Institute, which sponsors Native cultural programs throughout Southeast Alaska, has hosted the cultural festival in Juneau since 1986. But this winter the institute will solicit competitive bid proposals for Celebration 2006 from other Alaska communities such as Ketchikan, Sitka and Anchorage.

A decision will be announced in February, said Rosita Worl, the institute's president.

In recent years, Juneau has had its hands full in providing adequate space for the five-day festival, which attracts up to 1,700 Native dancers, as well as canoe racers, artists and storytellers from as far away as New Zealand. The institute estimates that this year's record crowds numbered around 5,000.

Worl said she is looking for more generosity from Alaska local governments. She said there were some disappointments in the past when dealing with Juneau leaders.

"We're contacting all of the communities right now to see what kind of resources they have to offer," Worl said.

She said the festival's major concern is finding adequate event space. Moving the festival to a larger city like Anchorage would remove it from its cultural homeland but "in actuality, we have a couple thousand of our own people who live in Anchorage proper," Worl said.

As it has grown, Celebration has spread out to several venues in downtown Juneau, including Centennial Hall, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall and Sealaska Plaza.

"It's a lot for us to handle," said Jamie Letterman, director of convention sales for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We wouldn't want to see it go anywhere else but we understand that things change," she said.

Due to space constraints, nine Native dance groups from outside Southeast Alaska were turned away from Celebration 2004. Also, the institute had to scramble to find a new venue for its artists' market when it was denied use of the National Guard Armory for security reasons.

Juneau Assembly member Johan Dybdahl questioned whether other Southeast communities would be able to provide as much space as is now available in Juneau.

He attributes Celebration's growth in recent years to the cultural revival of many Southeast Alaska tribal groups.

"There's a lot more interest and pride in (our) cultural background. We see it all over Southeast. There are multiple dance groups, even in very small communities," Dybdahl said.

Dybdahl said he hopes the city will submit a competitive proposal.

"Juneau has to recognize that it's a regional center," he said.

Ketchikan Indian Community President Stephanie Rainwater-Sande was ecstatic to learn that the institute would consider moving the event to other towns.

"We'd be more than honored to assist them in hosting it in Ketchikan. We'd pull out the red carpet," Rainwater-Sande said.

The Ketchikan Indian Community is the largest tribal organization in Southeast Alaska and has expressed interest in hosting the event in the past.

Holding the event in Juneau has become traditional, "but other tribal governments are interested in participating," she said.

Rainwater-Sande said the festival could be spread out among several venues in the Ketchikan-Saxman area, such as the Saxman Tribal House and the Ted Ferry Civic Center.

To pull together its own competitive bid, the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau will seek the city's assistance, said Letterman, the bureau's convention services manager.

Letterman said it has been difficult to assess the event's financial effect on Juneau, but that "it's huge."

The effect can't be analyzed easily because so many attendees stay in local homes rather than hotels, she said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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