Young entrepreneur wins award

Kyle Hopkins
Valerie Davidson, senior director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, speaks at a panel discussion titled "Dialogue: Strengthening Our Relationship With the State of Alaska" at the AFN convention Friday, October 21, 2011. At right is panel moderator Gloria O'Neil, president of Cook Inlet Trial Council.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Athabascan leader Katie John listens to a presentation titled "Dialogue: Strengthening Our Relationship With the State of Alaska" during the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention Friday, October 21, 2011, at the Dena'ina Center in downtown Anchorage.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

Meet 24-year-old Rebecca Wilbur, an entrepreneur with her eye on becoming the Michael's crafts store of Quinhagak.

Artists in the cash-poor Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta need beads and bones, leather and carving tools to make projects, she said, but it can cost more than $600 to fly to Anchorage for supplies. Wilbur's solution: Import the craft components, buy raw materials from neighboring hunters and trappers, and sell to artists in nearby villages.

"I want to provide the supplies for kuspuk making, for putting bracelets together," said Wilbur, whose business is called Yup'ik Originals. "The string, beads. (Supplies for) making earrings and hair pins and everything that I guess defines who we are."

Voters in the Alaska Marketplace competition -- a contest to win seed money to start small rural businesses -- awarded Wilbur the people's choice award at this year's Alaska Federation of Natives convention. She'll take home $6,000 from the competition.

If the business model works, other supply shops could sprout up around the Y-K, Wilbur said.

"There aren't many jobs in the community, and we are hoping that with our business, we can help our artists flourish," she said. "And at the same time, we want to encourage trappers to go trapping by purchasing their raw hides."

Eventually, Wilbur hopes to buy art from artists across the region and sell the work at the Bethel Saturday market or at the AFN crafts fair.

"People spend so much time making their art that they don't break even," Wilbur said.


Grab a seat at the AFN convention this year and someone might hand you a credit card-sized gadget that looks a little like a calculator. It allows the audience to participate in informal flash surveys or polls.

On Friday, delegates were asked if they agree with this statement: "I think our rural communities can survive into the future."

More than 70 percent of the 500-plus people who responded said yes.

"How do you rate the Native community for working effectively to address homelessness and transiency among our people," another question asked.

Seventy-four percent said the community does a poor job. Asked to rate the state of Alaska's performance in providing adequate programs that combat Alaska Native homelessness and transiency, 81 percent of respondents said the state does poorly too.


A year ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski came to the AFN convention in Fairbanks battling for an unlikely write-in victory against challenger Joe Miller, who defeated the incumbent in the Republican primary.

On Friday, Murkowski returned to the convention floor and thanked Alaska Natives for delivering the unprecedented win.

"Without a doubt in my mind it was the strength and it was the unity of the Alaskan Native community from Southeast, to southwest, up to the north," Murkowski told the crowd. "It was that strength and unity that caused us to make history, and I will never, never forget what you have done."

AFN delegates voted to endorse Murkowski at the 2010 convention while the board denied Miller and Democratic hopeful Scott McAdams an audience in front of the convention crowd.

AFN co-chair Albert Kookesh said at the time that the board canceled a scheduled forum featuring the candidates because it didn't want to give "air time" to Miller, who had filed an FEC complaint against a political action committee composed of Alaska Native corporations.

Allowed unrestricted spending under a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Alaska Native corporations spent about $1.9 million on the effort to re-elect Murkowski, according to the Federal Election Commission.


Former Bethel Rep. Mary Sattler has a question. Why is it that when tourists go to Hawaii, they all come home wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but when visitors leave Alaska, they're not wearing a traditional kuspuk?

Picture a cruise ship full of seniors wrapped in the lightweight parkas rather than jogging suits. Sattler told the crowd it's a business that needs to happen.

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta pitched his own development idea. Somewhere in America, he said, there are "mega servers" composed of fields of computers.

"Huge places that take acres and they take tons of energy to refrigerate and cool," Itta said, setting up the punch line. "I thought, 'Hmm, you know, maybe we could try to bring some of these people up north, and they don't have to spend so much money on refrigeration."

Sattler, by the way, was recently elected to the Bethel City Council, she said. "I really want the pool to be built."


For the second time in three years, a Sealaska Corp. board member has been awarded AFN's top honor.

Rosita Worl, vice chair for the Southeast Alaska regional corporation and president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, was named AFN's Citizen of the Year on Friday.

"I venture to say there's probably nobody's life that has not been touched by the efforts that she has put into her work helping the Native community over her lifetime," AFN president Julie Kitka said.

Worl, who is Tlingit, holds a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard.

Fellow Sealaska board member, chair Albert Kookesh, who is also a state representative from Angoon, won in 2009. Last year, Heartbeat Alaska host Jeanie Greene won the award.

This year's Denali award, which recognizes the achievements of non-Natives, went to John Katz, the outgoing director for the governor's office in D.C.

Look for the full list of AFN awards in Sunday's Daily News.

Keeping up with AFN

The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention continues today at the Dena'ina Center. It's open to the public. The event is also being broadcast live on GCI cable, ARCS and 360 North, streamed at and broadcast live on KNBA 90.3 FM.

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