AFN convention to return to Fairbanks

Delegates unanimous in their approval of Interior's hospitality

Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Delegates to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention liked the warm welcome they received in Fairbanks.

Delegates on Saturday voted unanimously to return to the Interior next year. The AFN board will make its final decision on the convention in early December.

Port Graham elder Anesia Metcalf was surprised when she got off the airplane at Fairbanks International Airport. People greeted her and welcomed her to Fairbanks. It just got better from there, she said.

"We feel so good here," she said. "We feel so welcome here. As soon as we arrived at the airport, we feel so at home."

Tim Towarak and state Sen. Albert Kookesh, AFN's co-chairs, said the board listens to the people when deciding the convention's location.

"We were impressed," said Kookesh. "I haven't heard anything negative."

About 200 Fairbanks volunteers served as greeters, drivers and decorators or worked traffic control or security, said Deb Hickok, president of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The convention has been in Anchorage every year since it started in 1966, except for 1988, when it was in Fairbanks.

"By all accounts, our community was warm and welcoming to AFN," she said. "Everybody worked really hard."

Artists said they had business that was as good or better than sales in Anchorage. The craft fair is a major part of AFN's convention.

"It's better," said June Pardue, an Alutiiq artist. "We'd like to see it here next year."

Towarak, AFN co-chair, said that was his personal view, and if not next year, then in 2007.

"Yes, we will come back," he said.

Attendance for Quyana, the nightly dance performances, broke records, Towarak said. The Egan Center in Anchorage holds 1,200 people. The Carlson Center had close to 2,000 spectators each of the three nights.

Another plus was that AFN ended in the black this year, Kookesh said.

"We didn't have to dig down for extra money," he said.

Kookesh said Fairbanks showed solid proof that AFN has an economic impact.

"Now I know we make a difference," he said. "They had to bring extra taxis in and rental cars in."

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich said it is difficult to tell AFN's impact in Anchorage as dramatically as it appeared in Fairbanks. But that's also a sign that Anchorage can accommodate the state's largest conference easily, he said. The Egan Center had to send napkins, silverware and tablecloths to Fairbanks for AFN's annual banquet.

"Fairbanks is a much smaller community," he said. "We host several of these (types of conventions) every year."

Begich got some ideas about what to do to woo AFN to back to Anchorage from his day spent in Fairbanks. Anchorage had always given the AFN use of the Egan Center for free, suspended traffic tickets and fees for public transportation.

"We don't brag about it," Begich said, "now I know we have to."

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