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Alaska Federation of Natives: Fairbanks gears up to host AFN

Jillian RogersThe Arctic Sounder
Loren Holmes photo

The annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference isn’t an easy event to manage. That’s why members of the Fairbanks community have been busy preparing for months and months to host approximately 4,000 people next week for the three-day affair. 

The conference is the biggest meeting of Alaska Natives in the state, and together with the Elders and Youth conference happening in the days before AFN, it will bring an estimated $4 million into the Fairbanks area, said Helen Renfrew, the director of meetings and conventions for the Fairbanks Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. 

But the economic benefits are just one of the positive effects of AFN, she said. 

"A lot of connecting is done with the rural Alaska communities and this is a good opportunity for us to reinforce and solidify those relationships with our rural neighbors,” she said. 

The AFN conference brings Alaska Natives from all corners of the state together to discuss a variety of issues and vote on resolutions for the coming year. It also offers a place for social gathering and showcases artists, drummers and dancers from even the tiniest villages. 

The Fairbanks visitor’s bureau helps facilitate travel and accommodations to help make the trek to the Golden Heart City as easy as possible. 

Twelve different committees have been working since March to make sure every last detail is ironed out before the masses arrive. 

“It’s a wonderful thing to watch our community come together,” Renfrew said. 

There are about 600 volunteer positions to be filled for the three-day event and Renfrew is hoping to have at least 250 volunteers who can fill in in more than one spot.

There are flight deals from the villages to Fairbanks and even some added direct flights from hub communities like Bethel and Nome.

The convention and visitor’s bureau will provide transportation to and from the Carlson Center, where the convention is being held, to 14 nearby hotels. They also have been regularly updating hotel availability and convention schedules on the website afnfairbanks.com.

The town will be ready and waiting by the time visitors start arriving next week, Renfrew said.

She added that along with the meetings, receptions, elections and speeches, AFN will host more than 170 different artists selling their wares, which is good news because “Fairbanksans love an opportunity to shop.”

And for a lot of those sculptors, sewers and carvers, the revenue they get from AFN is a big chunk of their yearly income.

The conference will also feature Quyana, a 20-year tradition featuring a gathering of various dance groups from around the state to showcase traditional dances and songs.

“For the entire week of AFN, the energy around here is really high,” said Renfrew.

The Elders and Youth Conference starts on Monday, Oct. 21 and continues on until Wednesday. Wednesday evening will feature a welcome potlatch with a feast of moose and salmon to feed the 3,500 people expected. The AFN conference runs from Thursday, Oct. 24 to Saturday. Quyana performances happen Thursday and Friday evening.

The organizing of such a massive event was a collaborative effort between the bureau, the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole, the North Star Borough and many, other business sponsors, private donors and volunteers.

“We are really looking forward to a smooth AFN this year,” said AFN media relations contact Ben Mallott.

Mallott applauded Fairbanks volunteers and organizers for helping make the preparations. He added the AFN office is only made up of 10 paid employees.

“We really rely on volunteers and so it’s great to see everyone come together,” he said.

With logistics under control in the Interior, Mallott said the office is still finalizing the agenda.

“One of the biggest challenges of holding AFN is shaping the agenda to provoke discussion," he said. "We want to hear back from our delegates and hear concerns so we can (form) resolutions to help shape our priorities for the coming year.”

For complete schedules, hotels and events, click here. For more information on the Alaska Federation of Natives, go to nativefederation.org.

This article originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.