The biannual Haa Ḵusteeyí Celebration and community gathering in Teslin this month presents a unique opportunity for Yukoners of all backgrounds to connect with the Tlingit community.
“Everyone is welcome. We want everybody here. We want to share and showcase our culture to the world,” says Melaina Sheldon, community arts and events coordinator at the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre.
Sheldon is excited for the gathering, which the Teslin Tlingit are co-hosting with the Taku River Tlingit and Carcross Tagish First Nations. Sheldon says that the coastal Tlingit communities in Alaska have been hosting events like this for some time and that in 2009 the inland Tlingit communities of the Yukon got together organized this one.
“We wanted to have something on the inland to celebrate here,” she says.
The Haa Ḵusteeyí Celebration has since replaced Discovery Day as a holiday for the Yukon Tlingit communities as National Tlingit Day. The intention is for the celebration to travel between inland Tlingit communities on a rotating basis and it’s the fifth time that Teslin has hosted.
“There’s no end of things to keep you busy and we fit it all into these handful of days. it’s the good vibes – like a good times buffett,” says Sheldon.
The sense of community and connectedness is what keeps people coming back every year.
“The event continues to grow. We keep getting more friends and family from Sitka and Juneau, for example. This is one of those times when we get to get together, where you hear people say ‘I met my cousins who I never knew.’ It’s a really beautiful time. There’s a lot of pride and cultural awareness,” says Sheldon.
This year Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, who is of Tlingit heritage, is expected to be in attendance.
The event will kick off on Thursday, July 27 with a traditional lake crossing and arrival ceremony in a Tlingit canoe, followed by a greeting ceremony and the lighting of the Celebration Fire. The story behind the arrival ceremony is that guests from Carcross, Tagish and Atlin used to arrive in Teslin on foot. They would then be ferried across the river by their hosts and greeted on the shores of the lake.
The Official Welcoming and Grand Entrance Parade with pageantry, flags and Tlingit regalia follows in the late afternoon.
“Daily schedules include public art workshops, cultural demonstrations, storytelling, canoe rides, First Nation and contemporary performers, artists’ market, kids’ zone, hand games demonstrations, Tlingit language lessons and much, much more!”
There will be a public feast every evening followed by cultural performances.
“There’s so much going on. I’ve never heard anyone say that they’re bored,” says Sheldon.
There are a few new additions to this year’s schedule, too.
“This year it’s a jam packed event,” says Sheldon. “There’s a Tlingit language scavenger hunt and a traditional Tlingit fashion show and tell.”
Sheldon says that the fashion show and tell is a grassroots event, “where you get to showcase the headpiece that you inherited from your great great grandfather, for example.” The Dań Kwanje ‘Á-Nààn Indigenous boat builders will be showcasing their four traditional watercraft, including a birch bark canoe, a dugout canoe, a seal skin kayak and a moose skin boat. All four boats are expected to be there on Saturday, July 29.
There will be a soap berry ice cream making contest (and if you haven’t tasted soap berry ice cream you’re in for a treat).
“Canoe races on Saturday afternoon are super exciting, too and of course there will be smoked salmon going on,” says Sheldon.
The celebration is partnering with the Yukon Government in offering a traditional regalia care and maintenance workshop, where you can learn how to store your precious generational First Nations heirlooms.
The Git Hayetsk dance group from Vancouver will be performing as will Gwaandak Theatre with their Indigenous Summer Play Reading Series featuring two pieces by Tlingit playwright Frank Henry Kaash Katasse. Ravenstail weaving with Lily Hope and smoking salmon with Doug Smarch Jr will be happening all weekend. There’s also a family concert with the Northwest Territories group Digawolf who sing in the Tlicho language as well as in English.
There is no charge to participate and Sheldon points out that it’s a low cost event. “Come for the day if you don’t have the time to spend the whole weekend. We had a really great event in 2016 and we’re expecting the same this year,” says Sheldon. She says that guests can expect a few surprise performances too. For more information you can visit www.TeslinTlingitHeritage.com.