AFN convention to touch on village issues

October 21, 2009 

Food. Land. Money. Fuel.

The Alaska Federation of Natives convention launches this morning in Anchorage, promising a complex look at the law and politics surrounding those basic village needs.

"Energy pretty much dominated last year," said AFN President Julie Kitka. "And I would think this year tribal issues, subsistence, energy, healthy communities, sustainable economies -- those will be the ones that dominate this year."

The convention is expected to draw roughly 4,200 people from cities, towns and villages across Alaska, according to the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau. Held at the Dena'ina convention center, it's the largest annual convention of any kind in the state, said Jeanette Anderson-Moores, vice president of communications for the visitors bureau.

Evelyn Karmun, of Kotzebue, sat on a bench in the center lobby Wednesday as the first of roughly 1,000 voting delegates signed up for the meeting. Outside, a man from Nenana sold dried salmon strips for $15 a bag. Another sang home-made country songs, an open guitar case at his feet.

An Inupiat with a four vertical lines tattooed on her chin -- an homage to tradition and elders inked in Fairbanks a few years ago -- Karmun came to Anchorage days early to shop. Clothes, winter gear and food all cost far more in her hometown, 550 miles away.

"Walmart, Walmart, Walmart," said Karmun, a tribal healer who will offer free massages throughout the convention.

Anchorage and Fairbanks boosters battle over who gets to host the October meeting, and the millions of dollars it means. The AFN board voted in May to hold next year's convention in Fairbanks.

The Anchorage visitors bureau pegs the economic impact at $5.3 million, Anderson-Moores said. "It's lodging and meals and incidentals and ground transportation. That doesn't include travel to get here."

With eight Point Hope hunters accused by the state of wasting caribou and after a series of high-profile tickets to subsistence fishermen, Alaska Native leaders expect hunting and fishing rights to play a major role at the meeting. The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, a statewide Native organization focused gaining sovereign government powers for Alaska tribes, held a closed door meeting on the topic Wednesday, said chairman Mike Williams.

One concern: That villages like Saxman, a Tlingit community of 420 people, will lose hunting and fishing priority guaranteed to rural Alaskans on federal lands. Saxman is 2 miles from Ketchikan, a city of 7,500.

"Kodiak is threatened. Bethel is threatened," Williams said.

Climate change is on people's minds, Kitka said.

So are recent efforts to expose Native corporations and tribally owned firms to more competition for no-bid federal contracts. Critics, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have suggested the Alaska corporations may be getting a sweetheart deal at the expense of taxpayers. Supporters disagree, saying the current process is necessary and working the way it's supposed to -- helping Native shareholders.

The keynote speakers -- Willie Hensley, a pioneer for Alaska Native land rights, and his daughter Elizabeth Hensley are scheduled to address the crowd 9:40 a.m. at the Dena'ina. Then Gov. Sean Parnell and Rep. Don Young.

Parnell recently called for more village public safety officers across Alaska, while two rural hub cities voted to loosen local liquor bans.

Along with subsistence, AFN co-chair Tim Towarak expects rural fuel woes and alternative energy to be a major topic this year. "There's been some successful windmills built in my own village of Unalakleet," he said.

State lawmakers plans to hold a three-hour hearing on the cost of rural energy Friday.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

How to follow the AFN convention

The state’s largest gathering of Alaska Natives begins today at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. Sessions are open to the public, although seating is sometimes limited.

The popular “Quyana Alaska” performances are scheduled tonight and Friday night, with tickets going on sale this morning at 10 at the Dena’ina center.

Here’s how to follow the action if you can’t make it to the convention center:

TV: Watch the convention live on GCI Channel 1 today from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and catch the Quyana performances from 7 to 10:30 p.m., according to GCI.

The station plans to broadcast the meeting Friday and Saturday too, including the Friday night Quyana.

RADIO: Listen to the convention live from 9 a.m. to

5 p.m. each day on KNBA 90.3 FM.

ONLINE: Watch the convention streaming online today, and find the daily agendas, at the Alaska Federation of Natives Web site at KNBA also plans to stream its radio broadcast at

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