ANCHORAGE - An estimated 3,000 Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts are expected today at the 36th annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
The theme of the four-day convention is "Our World, Our Way of Life," said spokesman John Tetpon.
Delegates will discuss a host of issues, among them subsistence rights, discrimination and, this year, how best to use a $15 million grant to find solutions to drug and alcohol abuse, Tetpon said.
"We will be working on a new issue that is probably way overdue," Tetpon said.
After discussions by various panels throughout the convention, delegates will vote Saturday morning on resolutions.
Gov. Tony Knowles will address delegates this morning and discuss the need for a subsistence solution. Federal law requires the state to give rural residents a priority for subsistence use of fish and game. The Alaska Constitution states that fish, wildlife and water are to be reserved for the common use of all Alaskans.
The disparity prompted federal takeovers of subsistence on federal lands and waters in 1990 and 1999, respectively.
Subsistence will come up at a panel discussion Friday morning on co-management, the concept of government agencies sharing power with Alaska Natives in writing subsistence regulations.
This will be the first AFN convention since three white youths attacked Natives with paintballs in downtown Anchorage last winter. Alaska advisers to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will take testimony on discrimination this afternoon.
The keynote speaker this morning is Francesca Sutton, a Yupik woman from Togiak who travels around rural Alaska making presentations about problems rural youths face with drugs and alcohol.
Rural regions are in line for $15 million in new federal money, obtained with help from U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, that can be used to find solutions to drug and alcohol abuse.
"That's something we're going to be focusing on for the next five or six years," Tetpon said.
The money is not meant to supplant other state and federal programs, he said.
"We want to support and help villages develop and create their own solutions," he said. "It's a bottom-up program."
AFN has identified four major areas for spending the money: support for local-option communities and other communities interested in alcohol control; enhancement of the Village Public Safety Officer program and improvement of rural law enforcement; restorative justice programs that include alternative sentencing options; and support for statewide sobriety efforts, including statewide communications, education, and support of cultural and spirit camps.
The convention will put out the message that the Native community is well, its culture is intact and family structures are in place, Tetpon said.
"The thing that needs fixing, we are ready to fix," he said.
The convention and related events will be broadcast on cable Channel 4 in Juneau from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and 7 p.m.-11 p.m. today, and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The AFN Web site is www.nativefederation.org.