"Native people are the heart and soul of our state," Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka told attendees at the opening of the 2012 Alaska Federation of Natives convention at the Dena'ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, on Thursday. "Our greatest strengths as Native people have been our cultural values and our strength in working together."

For as great as the diversity is among peoples and regions, Aleuts of southwest Alaska, Eskimos of the Arctic coastlines, and Athabascan Indians of the state's interior, the Native community shares a host of adversities. High costs of living, sexual and physical abuse, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty, access to education, access to traditional foods -- these and other barriers have for years been complex problems with grudging, if any, solutions.

Through a unified, unrelenting political voice, the state's Native community has the strongest influence, several leaders said.

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