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Slideshow: Opening night of the 2024 Cama-i Dance Festival

The 2024 Cama-i Dance Festival kicked off in Bethel on Friday (March 15), as hundreds of spectators and dancers converged on Bethel Regional High School for a weekend of celebration and community.

The festival began with the lighting of the Cama-i flame – in reality, three flames, lit by an Elder, a teenager, and a child representing the generations on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Then Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC) Traditional Chief Luumaq Ignatius “Louie” Andrew welcomed the crowd with raised arms, shouting “Cama’i!”

“The dancers who are to perform here, we will be honored by them,” Andrew said. “And your dances will bring honor to our ancestors.”

In addition to hours-worth of dance, the first day of the three-day event was also focused on recognitions – dedicating the festival to Elders who have passed, and honoring Elders who continue to act as culture-bearers and pass along wisdom and humor through their support of yuraq in their communities.

This year, Cama-i is dedicated to two late leaders: the late Inuguarpak Stanley Anthony of Nightmute and the late Seliksuyar Bob Aloysius of Bethel.

And two Elders have been honored as “Living Treasures” this year: Ap'alluk Levi Hoover of Kasigluk and Atrilnguq Joseph Asuluk Sr. of Toksook Bay.

Ten dance groups, plus Toksook Bay musician Byron Nicholai, performed on Friday, including the four communities of this year’s Living Treasures and Cama-i dedication recipients.

Cama-i continues through the weekend, with a Native foods dinner, craft fair, demonstrations, classes, and hours and hours more dance, drumming and singing. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday (March 16) and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday (March 17).

Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.