Alaska News

2 major tribal organizations pull out of Alaska Federation of Natives

Two large regional tribal organizations in Alaska separately said on Monday that they are pulling out of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, based in Juneau and representing more than 35,000 tribal citizens, and the Tanana Chiefs Conference, based in Fairbanks and representing 42 villages, announced they were leaving the state’s largest Alaska Native organization.

Three of the state’s 12 regional Alaska Native corporations, including the Aleut Corp. late last year, have also left the politically powerful organization in recent years.

AFN President Julie Kitka said Monday afternoon that the organization will wait to provide comment until after holding its board meeting next week. She said AFN continues to represent more than 200 federally recognized tribes, 184 Native village corporations, nine Native regional corporations and 11 regional tribal consortiums.

Some of the withdrawing organizations have recently cited a variety of concerns, including disagreement on how disputes between organizations are handled.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference said in a statement that its biggest priority is the protection of salmon that feed communities in the Interior region.

Its goals aren’t being met, the group said.


“Over the past few years, over 40 resolutions were passed by the full board at AFN that support a subsistence way of life, but no significant action has been taken on those directives,” the organization said. “A lot of effort, time, and money goes toward participating in AFN and it is important that those resources be utilized to their maximum potential to advance TCC’s tribal priorities.”

Tanana Chiefs Conference said it appreciates the work AFN has done over the years, but a poll of tribal delegates led to a majority vote against renewing membership in AFN, the statement said. On April 28, the executive board approved the withdrawal and the Tanana Chiefs Conference submitted its formal departure letter to AFN.

Tanana Chiefs Conference will align itself with partners that help further our priorities and share our same voice, the statement said.

The Tlingit and Haida Council in Southeast Alaska voted last Monday to end its long-standing membership with AFN, that organization said in a statement.

In the statement, Tlingit and Haida officials emphasized the tribe’s desire to carve its own path in a region it knows better than anyone, and to collaborate with other governments and entities as a sovereign power, according to the statement.

“It has always been in the best interest of the tribe to directly promote, advance and advocate for our people and communities, and we have positioned the tribe and strategically built our capacity to do just that,” said Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, Tlingit and Haida council president.

The Tlingit and Haida council will continue to collaborate with AFN as needed, Peterson said.

The Aleut Corp., representing Alaska Native shareholders from the Aleutian Islands region, decided shortly after the AFN convention last fall that it would not renew its AFN membership this year, said Skoey Vergen, chief executive of the Aleut Corp., in a phone call.

In that meeting in October, people from the Aleutians region and Alaska Peninsula stood and turned their backs at the convention to protest a floor vote that pitted that their region against others seeking to protect salmon runs in Southwest Alaska and the Interior.

The decision called for a potential reduction in the amount of fish caught in Area M, a state-managed fishery off the Alaska Peninsula, in order to protect salmon runs that have crashed on the state’s two largest rivers, the Yukon and Kuskokwim.

“The AFN motto las year was unity, and AFN has bylaws that should not allow a divisive resolution to make it to the floor,” Vergen said. “We were just trying to protect our fishery and felt we were unfairly being singled out.”

Two other regional Alaska Native corporations withdrew from AFN in recent years and have not returned.

The board of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., representing Native shareholders from the oil-rich North Slope region, approved a withdrawal in 2019, citing long-standing tension with AFN.

The board of Doyon, the biggest private landowner in Alaska and representing Native shareholders from the Interior, voted to remove the corporation from AFN in 2020.

Last week, Doyon publicly explained the reason behind its decision, at the urging of shareholders, according to a statement from the corporation.

The regional Native corporation said that for well over a decade it has sought to see improvements in the organization, but not enough has changed. It temporarily left AFN for an earlier period, the statement said.

“Doyon rejoined AFN but remained dismayed by AFN’s resistance to continued improvement,” the statement said. “Importantly, processes for reviewing and addressing conflict among AFN’s members remained problematic.”


Doyon also said it opposed the stance AFN took in a friends-of-the-court brief filed in the Sturgeon case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the high court in 2019 unanimously approved John Sturgeon’s right to use a hovercraft to hunt moose on the Nation River in the Yukon-Charlie National Preserve.

“In 2019, to our great disappointment, AFN filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the National Park Service in the Sturgeon case at the United States Supreme Court,” Doyon’s statement said.

“(AFN’s) position was directly adverse to Doyon’s position and the interests of our shareholders,” the statement said. “The National Park Service’s position in the case would have allowed the federal government to regulate (lands owned by Native corporations) within conservation units as if they were public federal lands and not lands privately owned by Alaska Native shareholders.”

Doyon said it wants AFN to continue reform efforts begun in 2009.

“The needed work on conflict resolution among various Native constituents was highlighted at the 2022 AFN convention when a proposed resolution addressing subsistence fish declines on the Yukon River was met with impasse and conflict,” the statement said. “Doyon remains engaged in Alaska Native policy conversations, whether across our state or within our region.”

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or