AFN delegates want revised subsistence policies

October 24, 2009 

The dolls, with their beaded eyes and sealskin faces, lined the back row of Ursula Paniyak's booth Saturday at the Dena'ina convention center. Each of the tiny Eskimo women replicas held an even smaller rectangular swatch of reindeer skin up to its ear.

"Did you see the lady on the cell phone?" Paniyak asked a convention-goer wandering through the Alaska Federation of Natives trade show. "(She's) going, 'I'm done picking berries. You need to come pick me up.' "

Venders like Paniyak made their final sales of the three-day annual convention Saturday as delegates two floors above voted for widespread changes to the way subsistence hunting and fishing is regulated in Alaska. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich announced the new head of the Denali Commission -- the first Alaska Native to hold the job, once he's formally appointed -- and plans to re-organize AFN itself took shape on the convention floor.

The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau expected roughly 4,200 people to file through the Dena'ina center for this year's meeting, where hunting and fishing politics took center stage.

The Interior Department announced a wholesale review of the federal subsistence management program Friday, and many of the convention resolutions Saturday called for greater access to fish and game.

But first, Paniyak looked to sell some dolls. The family tradition started with her late mother, Rosalie Paniyak, one of Alaska's best-known doll makers. At her first AFN convention years ago, Rosalie didn't have a table so she lined her dolls on a snowbank outside.

"Sold 'em all," said Ursula, who began learning the craft at 10 years old. Now her daughter and granddaughter create them too.

A picture of all four generations of Paniyak doll-makers sat at the edge of the booth, opposite a Nativity scene of Cup'ik-style dolls. Ursula, like her mother, is from Chevak. She now lives in Anchorage, where her husband is vice president for AFN.

The family has sewn dolls that are dancing or gathering berries, pregnant dolls and breast-feeding dolls.

The idea for the cell phone dolls came from TV commercials advertising the spread of cell coverage in the Bush, Ursula said. "The cell phone people came from ACS, or GCI, and bought two."


Joel Neimeyer, who is Yup'ik, is expected to become the first Alaska Native to head the Denali Commission, Begich told convention-goers Saturday.

The federal-state agency oversees federal spending on rural infrastructure in Alaska. It's parceled out about $1 billion since its creation a decade ago.

The White House recently signed off on Neimeyer's selection, Begich said, though he still has to be formally appointed to the job by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Neimeyer will replace commission federal co-chair George Cannelos. He now splits his time between working for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Rasmuson Foundation.


AFN delegates voted Saturday to call for a 14-point overhaul of subsistence hunting and fishing regulation in Alaska.

The proposals include a push for the federal government to assume responsibility for regulating subsistence on 45.5 million acres of Native-owned land -- a move that would give rural residents first crack at subsistence hunting and fishing.

The proposal, submitted by the AFN board, also calls for Alaska Natives who move from villages to cities to retain a subsistence priority, state Sen. Albert Kookesh said Thursday.

Both changes would require an act of Congress.

"We have a number of broad changes and it's going to take some time. Some of them we think can be addressed immediately, some will require legislative amendments," said Rosita Worl, a board member and president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Another resolution calls for a re-organization of AFN itself by 2011.

The idea is to give groups like regional health organizations or the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope -- which represents regional tribal councils -- a vote at the convention, said Tara Sweeney, vice president for external affairs for Arctic Slope Regional Corp.


In the waning hours of the convention, AFN leaders recognize Alaskans around the state for personal triumphs and public service. John Dilts, 38, walked to the stage in a New York Yankees jersey that read "Stud" on the back, to accept the "Hunter-Fisher" award.

He volunteers to take ministers who come to his hometown of Hydaburg fishing, sharing the catch. He brought two cases of salmon to the stage. "I just wanted to show kindness in returning something back," he said of the gift.

At a convention where the debate over subsistence rules loomed large, Dilts encountered the law firsthand this summer. He was found guilty in June of illegally selling subsistence-caught Dungeness crab, Alaska State Troopers reported this summer, and fined $120.

"I did get pinched," he said after accepting the award. He was trying to raise money to help his family pay to travel to Ketchikan for medical help, he said.

Other award winners:

Julius Rexford Sr. -- Culture Bearer award

Christian Tigluk Stein Sr. -- Della Keats "Healing Hands"

Rachel Philemonof -- Roger Lang Youth Leadership

Melvin Squartsoff -- Small business

Lydia Olsen -- Health

Clare Swan -- Elder of the Year

Anna Frank -- Public Service

Agnik Polly Schaeffer -- Eileen Panigeo MacLean Education

Noah Naylor -- Parent of the Year

Alvin Jimmie -- Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement

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

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