Canoes from around Southeast Alaska are formally greeted at the Douglas Boat Harbor on June 8, 2016, just before that year’s Celebration. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

Southeast Alaska’s largest Native cultural gathering won’t be held this year. 

Celebration” traditionally draws thousands of participants to Juneau to honor Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian dances, language and song.

It’s normally held every two years. But the coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 event to move online, and organizers hoped to hold a gathering this year. 

Now, the in-person event tentatively planned for June has been called off. 

That’s because the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for those under 16, the organizer, Sealaska Heritage Institute, said in a statement Wednesday (1-20-2021). And the board of trustees didn’t want to put children at risk by inviting 5,000 people to Juneau, SHI’s vice chair Albert Kookesh told CoastAlaska.

“We don’t know whether we can bring those kind of people together; it might be irresponsible,” Kookesh said in an interview. “We just made a motion at the board that we would not consider for 2021, because of the uncertainties.”

Kookesh says the board will revisit the issue to decide whether it’s safe to hold a Celebration event in 2022.