Sealaska Heritage Institute will have a Grand Opening Ceremony for the Walter Soboleff Building on May 15, 2015. It will kick off at 8:30 am in front of the building on Seward St. with a formal ceremony, which will be followed by a canoe welcome immediately following the morning ceremony, then a traditional ceremony, scheduled to begin at 2pm. The Sealaska parking lot will be set aside for spectators, and the event will be broadcast live on 360North and on sealaskaheritage.org.
SHI’s Council of Traditional Scholars, which guides the SHI on programs, has been meeting since 2014 to help plan the Grand Opening Ceremony. The day will mark years of planning, fundraising and finally the completion of the new building, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“I am profoundly grateful to the many donors and old friends who helped us on this journey and to the new friends we made along the way,” Worl said. “The building has surpassed my dreams. It is more than a building. It is itself a work of art and testimony to our cultural survival.”
The formal ceremony will kick off with the lead dance group Aangun Yatx’i (Angoon Children) Dancers which was chosen because it is comprised of children from Angoon, Dr. Soboleff’s hometown, and many of the dancers are from his clan or children and grandchildren of the L’eeneidí (Dog Salmon). The ceremony will include comments from staff, trustees and directors at Sealaska Heritage Institute and Sealaska; ceremonial spokespersons and community leaders; a spokesperson for the Soboleff family; a spokesperson for the family of William L. Paul, Sr., for whom the archive at SHI is named; and elected officials and major donors.
After the formal ceremony, the event will head to the Juneau dock near Marine Park for the arrival of the North Tide Canoe Kwáan of Chilkoot and Chilkat and ceremony. Dance performances by four dance groups will be held at Marine Park immediately after the canoe ceremony. Dance groups will lead the canoe and canoers back to the Walter Soboleff Building where the traditional ceremony will take place at 2 pm.
The traditional ceremony will begin with opening comments from ceremonial spokespersons, a ceremony to thank and feed the spirit of the trees and a “Feeding the Ancestors” ceremony. A small group will then move inside the building into the clan house, where a child’s hand will be imprinted in red onto a cedar board in the corner of the clan house. The placement of a handprint or “X” in a clan house is an ancient practice. The glass screen in the clan house will be unveiled followed by comments from people, including the artist Preston Singletary.
The monumental art in the main entry will be revealed followed by comments from the artist David Boxley. Then the event will move back outside for a ceremony to name the clan house Shuká Hít. Artist Robert Davidson, who made the monumental art on the exterior of the building, will speak, and a delegation will ceremonially transfer clan hats to Sealaska Heritage Institute for the exhibit space. The traditional ceremony will conclude with closing comments by a representative from the Eagle and Raven moieties followed by dance performances. People who are not part of a dance group on the agenda but who want to dance may join dancers on the way to and from the canoe ceremony and at the end of the event.
SHI has hired KTOO to document the event, which will be broadcast live on 360North and online. For the portion of the ceremony that takes place inside the building, because of space constraints, only ceremony leaders, journalists and some staff will be admitted. The audio will be carried outside on a PA system, though, and attendees with mobile devices may continue to watch online. The Sealaska parking lot will be reserved for spectators, and SHI encourages attendees to bring lawn chairs, as seating will be limited. In the event of rain, there will be a covered space on Seward St. for Elders plus an area reserved for people in wheelchairs.
Because the traditional ceremony is expected to run past business hours, the doors won’t officially open until the morning of May 16. The store will be open during the ceremony.
The idea to build a Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian culture and research center—our Box of Knowledge—was conceived in the 1990s, and staff at SHI began talking publicly about the project in 2005. Staff spent years developing the concept and talking to policy makers and potential funders about the best approach to moving forward. In 2004, the Skinner Building burned to the ground and in 2010, Sealaska bought the lot to donate to SHI. The institute shortly after began a campaign to raise $20,000,000 to build the facility. That year, SHI, in consultation with other Native organizations, chose MRV Architects to design the building with the goal of creating a place that honored our past and also felt heritage forward. In 2011, SHI’s longtime Board of Trustees Chair, Dr. Walter Soboleff, Walked into the Forest at the age of 102, and during his memorial, the institute announced the new building would be named for him. SHI hired Dawson Construction and the project broke ground in August of 2013. The institute’s staff moved into the second story in December of 2014 while work on the rest of the floors continued through Spring of 2015.
Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
CONTACT: Rosita Worl, SHI president, 907.463.4844