Pressed for change, Native leaders promise a 'new, modern AFN'

khopkins@adn.comOctober 20, 2012 

Under pressure from some members, Alaska Federation of Natives leaders said Saturday that a new effort is under way to overhaul and modernize the 46-year-old nonprofit.

"We look forward to this time next year sharing with you a new, modern AFN," board member Gregory Razo told the crowd on the final day of the annual convention in Anchorage.

The announcement follows warnings by some AFN member organizations, such as Fairbanks-based Doyon Limited, that they might withhold dues unless changes were made. One group, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, has refused to pay convention dues until it sees action on restructuring, AFN president Julie Kitka said in an interview Saturday.

A nonprofit that serves Alaska Natives in the Anchorage area, CITC is one of more than 400 organizations that AFN represents, Kitka said. "The big thing," she emphasized, is that AFN is undertaking a reorganization and that "everything is on the table right now."

Members have sought changes -- big and small -- to the AFN power structure for years. They've called for more tribal seats on the AFN board, changes to the convention voting process and term limits for federation leaders.

Previous attempts to modernize or rewrite federation bylaws failed despite a 2009 convention resolution that called for restructuring by 2011.

A prior AFN committee worked for two years to come up with specific changes, but the AFN board earlier this year voted against making the recommended amendments, Razo said.

One sticking point: An attempt to grow the size of the board from 37 people to 48 in hopes of adding seats for tribes and at-large members, Kitka said. "People thought it was too expensive."

Other changes now under consideration include inviting additional regional health corporations into the organization and adding a provision "that respects the sovereignty of tribes and makes it clear that AFN supports federally recognized tribes," Kitka said.

Placing tribes on equal footing with other AFN members is among the top priorities for Doyon president and chief executive officer Aaron Schutt, who said efforts to modernize the federation have been in motion for several years.

"I think it's just a process of evolution that we all go through in organizations," he said.

Doyon had "some serious discussions with AFN" about whether the company would pay its dues to the federation over the summer, he said, but those talks were not related solely to restructuring.

Razo said several groups wrote letters of concern to the AFN board, prompting a special meeting in September and creation of a 15-member executive committee that plans to propose changes to the federation bylaws or structure in December.

AFN membership currently includes 178 villages, the 13 regional corporations and a dozen regional and non-profit tribal consortiums, according to the group's website.



Following speeches by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young earlier in the week, Sen. Mark Begich told the AFN crowd about benefits for Alaska Native military veterans, health care and regular air travel returning to the remote village of Little Diomede.

Then he talked about "one of the most irritating issues we're fighting" in D.C.: Transportation Security Administration agents hassling people for wearing kuspuks as they pass through airport security.

"It's outrageous that I see over and over again our elders being asked to come into a different area to (be) searched because they have a kuspuk on," Begich told the crowd.

Begich said he recently met with the TSA director in Alaska and made the case that kuspuks "are not hoodies." "It's not something that terrorists are wearing," he said.



Delegates at the three-day convention passed more than 40 resolutions Saturday, including a call for Native elders who are 65 years old and older to be allowed to fish for food whenever and wherever they like. The resolution, proposed by the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, said subsistence fishing bans jeopardize "the health, lives and well-being" of elders.

Other non-binding resolutions approved at the convention sought to:

• Promote affordable broadband Internet access in rural Alaska.

• Reduce the number of king and chum salmon killed as by-catch by the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fleets.

•Allow Alaska Natives to sell traditional handicrafts made with feathers or parts of migratory birds.

AFN delegates also voted for a resolution urging federation members to vote for a state constitutional convention on the Nov. 6 ballot. A convention would allow AFN to pursue amendments to the state constitution calling for a subsistence hunting and fishing priority for Alaska Natives and to expand the size of the state Legislature in order to ensure more rural and Alaska Native lawmakers serve in Juneau, the resolution said.

Delegates from Southeast Alaska unsuccessfully opposed the measure, saying that opening the convention to amendments would make Juneau vulnerable to a capital move.


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


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