Celebration kicks off with yaakw landings in Juneau

People row yaakw to shore in downtown Juneau to attend Celebration on June, 4, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

Traditional canoes  — or yaakw —  landed in Juneau Tuesday to mark the start of the biennial Celebration festival, a gathering of Indigenous people in Southeast that attracts thousands. The canoes came from across the region and parts of Canada, journeying for days to get here. 

Eight yaakw made circles in front of a crowd waiting at Juneau’s Auke Recreation Area. Some carried over a dozen people, holding formline paddles and wearing life vests over their regalia. 

Leaders on each boat asked permission to come ashore, and Seikoonie Fran Houston, an Áak’w Ḵwáan elder, asked their reason for coming. One paddler who came from Haines answered.

“We’re here for Haa Shagoon, for those before us, and for those yet to come,” he said. “For our kids and our grandchildren on the beaches, so this way of life lives on forever. Aatlein gunalchéesh.” 

Master Carver Wayne Price made several of the yaakw landing in Juneau today. He came in on one from Haines. 

“Five dugouts on one journey, all on one journey, at one time is history in the making,” he said. “How long has it been since we’ve had that kind of gathering?”

Thirteen-year-old Mallory Willard Flanery and her twin brother live in Ketchikan, but they paddled here from Kake.

Avi Fulmer-Shakley, 1, hits a drum during the yaakw landing downtown on June, 4, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

“Each day would be about a couple hours, we would paddle,” she said.

But she said she wasn’t tired, and she would do it all over again.

Another group of yaakw, including members of the One People Canoe Society, finished their journey to Juneau Tuesday by landing downtown. 

Roberta Jack was on the first yaakw that landed there. It was paddled by Alaska Native veterans and their families. Jack traveled from Wrangell. Three generations of her family waited for her onshore.

“I got teary-eyed,” Jack said. “I got teary-eyed to see them here, watching their grandma paddle in.”

She said she was excited to celebrate her culture, surrounded by family and friends.

Her granddaughter, Summer Woodbury, stood next to her as they watched more yaakw come in.

“They’re beautiful and they’re really big and long and I like the paddles and the flags on them,” she said. 

Over the coming days, events across downtown will honor and uplift the culture of Lingít, Haida and Tsimshian people through dances, cultural demonstrations and art markets and exhibits. It’s hosted by Sealaska Heritage Institute. 

More information and the full schedule of official Celebration events can be found on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s website. 

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