The Alaska Federation of Natives will postpone its annual October convention until December in Anchorage amid concerns about rising COVID-19 infections, officials said.
The convention serves as a way for Alaska Natives from across the state to discuss political priorities and celebrate their cultures through arts and dance.
The event was held virtually last year. This year’s convention marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, landmark legislation that in 1971 established Alaska Native corporations, extinguished aboriginal land title and transferred 44 million acres to the corporations and their shareholders.
The decision to postpone the convention comes as Alaska battles a surge of COVID-19 driven by the highly infectious delta coronavirus variant and hospitals contend with short staffing and overcapacity.
AFN is still planning to hold an in-person event at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage in December, with a virtual option, but the final decision about the in-person components will be made by the board of directors in mid-October, the organization said.
“The high-risk factors of holding a 5,000-person indoor meeting, with delegates coming in from across Alaska, make an in-person October gathering out of the question,” said President Julie Kitka in a prepared statement. “The pandemic’s economic impact on businesses and individuals continues to be felt, even as COVID case trends go up and down. When large events like the AFN Convention go virtual, the economic fallout is felt by everyone, especially in the host city. We are working to avoid that if we can, though our top priority remains the health and safety of our delegates and other participants.”
In previous years, the convention has attracted thousands of attendees, who boost the local economy with millions in spending. It alternates between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Officials will announce the dates and times of 2021 convention events in the coming weeks, the statement said.