Visiting dancers from Tatitlek perform at the 28th Annual Sobriety Celebration on Saturday Nov. 11, 2023. Photo by Cathy Renfeldt

The Native Village of Eyak (NVE) just completed the 28th Annual Sobriety Celebration and Memorial Potlatch this past weekend. A full schedule of events complementing this year’s theme, Holding Hands with the Spirits, lasted from Nov. 10-12. 

Five Indigenous dance groups from around the state of Alaska journeyed to Cordova to participate in this year’s event. Cordova’s local Ikumat Dancers were joined by Juneau Yees Ku Oo Dancers, Nanwalek Seal Dancers, Port Graham Paluwik Alutiiq Dancers, Tatitlek Alutiiq Dancers, and Yakutat Mt. St. Elias Dancers.  

Dancing performances were punctuated with guest speakers and announcements. Many speakers shared their personal stories of a journey to sobriety and the important role it continues to play in their life. The Sobriety Celebration offers a time for both reflection and celebration.  

Jessicca Morningstar serves as coordinator for the Sobriety Celebration and said that the event is special to her because her father was involved in the original celebration 28 years ago.  

“I try to honor that passion in him by continuing something he loves; honoring my village traditions and values, and honoring our neighboring villages,” she said.    

Over the weekend NVE announced the nominees for the 2nd Annual Youth Rising Star Award: Samantha Eleshansky Villalon, Ricki Reilly; and the winner Alice Graves. The Rising Star Award recognizes an NVE Tribal Member youth for their accomplishments and for their emerging leadership.    


This year’s celebrations began with a hospitality dinner at the Cordova High School (CHS) cafeteria for volunteers, visiting dancers and guest speakers. Following the meal, Pastor Steve Leppert of the Cordova Church of the Nazarene offered a welcome prayer. The NVE tribal council chair, Brooke Mallory, also shared a welcome message and opening invitation for the weekend.  

Saturday was a day full of celebrations including community sharing. Testimony began in the CHS main gym. Local veterans in uniform lead a posting of the colors in the gymnasium. A banner was also displayed in honor of Veterans Day. After Annie Carlson sang the national anthem NVE tribal council member Darrel Olsen welcomed visitors on behalf of the Eyak people. Dance performances and personal testimony took place in the CHS gym while the rest of the high school was set up for various other supporting activities.  

Throughout the day visitors were able to explore different breakout rooms, workshops, artisan tables and food offerings. Breakout sessions offered unique opportunities to learn about traditional cultural crafts and practices including social medicine with Linda Joule, traditional tattoos lead by Holly Nordlum, and beading lead by Danaya Hoover and Teal Hansen. Several breakout sessions also focused on a healing mind body connection through practices such as reiki and yoga.  

For the first time a special auction was held for handmade drums decorated by artists. Over 20 drums were created for the occasion and decorated with artwork including scenic mountain vistas, formline designs, and Alaska animals. Several designs featured red handprints in recognition of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The drums were only available to bid on in person.  

Kayley DeLozier is one of the wellness events coordinators for NVE and was one of the contributing artists. She said being surrounded by the supportive community atmosphere at the celebration was a powerful experience.  

“Indigenous people are collectively reclaiming lost culture,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of.”  

Both the drum auction and the online portion of the auction closed at 3 p.m. on Saturday. In addition to the auctions, an artisan market open to the community took place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the halls of CHS and hosted a variety of goods for visitors to enjoy including fresh baked breads, handmade jewelry, and artwork.  

Saturday’s events were closed by a grand exit of all the dancers wearing traditional attire and regalia. After closing sentiments from Brooke Mallory, participants and volunteers were welcomed to enjoy a traditional potlatch dinner followed by a community dance for all ages. Visitors who flew in for the sobriety celebration were treated to a farewell breakfast on Sunday morning in the CHS cafeteria. 

Jessicca Morningstar shared her gratitude for the successful event in a public Facebook post Monday: “Every single person who entered the doors of the school… I thank you. My heart is filled with so many emotions. But overall it’s the satisfaction of bringing so many people together and watching them celebrate.”  

Though the celebration lasts only one weekend each year, NVE hosts programs to support sobriety efforts and healthy families year-round through their cultural programming and health and wellness advocacy.  

This story originally ran in the Nov. 17, 2023 issue of The Cordova Times.