Alaska's largest cities vie for 2006 Native conference

Opening of this year's meeting in Fairbanks was first time there in almost 20 years

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2005

FAIRBANKS - The state's two largest cities are vying for the next Alaska Native Federation convention, a lucrative annual meeting that generates millions of dollars for businesses in its host city.

The convention, which started Monday, opened in Fairbanks for the first time in nearly 20 years after some delegates claimed they no longer felt welcome in Anchorage.

"There was a growing feeling that Anchorage was taking us for granted," said AFN senior vice president Mike Irwin. "There was very little support from the business community, other than the big statewide corporations."

The federation represents Alaska Native corporations, nonprofit associations and tribal governments.

Irwin said many delegates and board members had personal stories of perceived slights in Anchorage hotels, restaurants and stores during previous conventions.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich will address the delegation this week in hopes of luring the convention back to Anchorage in 2006. Except for 1988, the conference has met in Anchorage since it was formed in 1966.

Begich said Anchorage - Alaska's largest Native community with 22,000 Native residents - gives delegates the opportunity to visit the Alaska Native Medical Center, shop or see family.

A year without the convention will help Anchorage reflect on the meeting's importance, the mayor said.

Fairbanks officials have their own strategies for enticing delegates to return next year.

The Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau has arranged complementary transportation for delegates. Local residents have volunteered as official greeters to give visitors information about shopping and restaurants.

Volunteers, local retailers and hotel employees have brushed up on customer service and cultural awareness, said Deb Hickock, executive director of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Fairbanks officials hope local enthusiasm will make for a memorable week in the federation's first convention in Fairbanks since 1988.

"We're really impressed with the community support we've received," said Alissa Herrman, coordinator of the AFN convention.

The largest statewide gathering of Alaska Natives draws about 2,500 delegates and their families and is worth more than $4 million in hotel, restaurant, shopping and other revenue.

No decision has been made yet about where to hold next year's AFN convention. AFN officials say they are waiting to see how the event fares in Fairbanks, which last hosted the convention in 1988.

Transportation problems inside and outside Fairbanks could cause some inconvenience, officials said.

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