Editor’s note: The Juneau Empire will be covering the Alaska Federation of Natives convention from Fairbanks throughout the week. For the latest AFN news visit us online at www.juneauempire.com.
FAIRBANKS — An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people from around Alaska will descend upon Fairbanks this week for the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Aside from providing a venue for Alaska Natives to discuss issues surrounding policy and culture, the annual convention has become a target event for state councils and federal agencies to consult with tribal members.
A New Jersey-based event planning company has also gotten into the AFN-week mix by hosting a for-profit two-day symposium just ahead of the convention.
The AFN was formed in 1966 to represent Alaska Natives as the seven-year-old State of Alaska began to lay claim to land. The organization saw its first success with the 1971 passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which is the largest land claims settlement act in United States history. The act created 12 regional corporations intended to manage settlement land and money to the benefit of Alaska Native shareholders.
In recent years, the annual convention has focused on themes ranging from unity to village survival to Native ways of knowing. This year’s convention — which takes place Oct. 24-26 at Fairbank’s Carlson Center — was planned around the theme of “Traditional Native Family Values”; still many of the perennial issues in the Alaska Native political sphere remain on the agenda.
On Friday, Troy Eid and Carole Goldberg of the Indian Law and Order Commission will give a brief presentation on reforming justice for Alaska Natives. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, chair of the Bush Caucus in the Alaska State Legislature, will also update delegates on relevant legislative issues. There will also be an update on the effort to gain federal recognition for Native Hawaiians and a report from the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.
A discussion about subsistence will take center stage Friday afternoon. Rosita Worl, AFN board of directors chair, will give a briefing and status report on efforts to protect and increase subsistence rights. She’ll likely update delegates on a September U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that sought to examine wildlife management authority in Alaska under ANCSA and the Alaska National Interest Lands Act. Worl was part of a group of Alaska Native leaders, state and federal officials who gave testimony to the committee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking member on the committee, called for the hearing and said it was likely the first Senate committee hearing of its kind.
Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich are both expected to be at the convention Saturday. Rep. Don Young will address delegates via video Friday.
The Elders and Youth conference, hosted by the First Alaskans Institute, will again be held in conjunction with the AFN convention Oct. 21-23. This year’s conference theme is “We Are Our Ancestors”. Tlingit storyteller Nora Dauenhauer, of Juneau, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and the institute’s President Liz Medicine Crow and board chair Willie Hensley will address the conference participants.
The Symposium for Alaska Native Leaders will take place before the AFN convention. The symposium is hosted by Native Nation Events and requires a registration fee. The agenda offers panel discussions on topics such as the Voting Rights Act, federal spending in Alaska and improving Alaska Native education.
Other gatherings taking place in Fairbanks this week include the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council quarterly meeting and the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council meeting. Consultation sessions with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Head Start and the Office of Indian Energy were scheduled for this week but were cancelled due to the federal government shutdown.
The AFN is governed by a 37-member board, with membership drawing from 178 Native villages and more than two dozen regional Native corporations and nonprofits.