Alaska News

Alaska delegation recommends AFN president as co-chair of federal Denali Commission

Alaska’s congressional delegation said Thursday that it has recommended Julie Kitka, longtime president of the state’s most prominent Alaska Native organization, to serve as the next federal co-chair of the Denali Commission.

The independent federal agency funds economic development and infrastructure projects in rural Alaska, and assists communities facing climate threats, including coastal erosion.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement from the delegation that she can’t think of anyone more qualified to push for economic development in rural Alaska.

For 33 years, she served as the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, successfully balancing the needs of a diverse group of tribes, village corporations, regional corporations, regional nonprofits and tribal consortiums, while advocating for Alaskan Natives on a local, state, and federal level,” Murkowski said of Kitka.

If Kitka is approved for the post, she would replace interim federal co-chair Jocelyn Fenton.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Mary Peltola praised Kitka’s work at AFN in the statement. They described her as the right fit for an organization focused on rural Alaska projects.

Kitka is one of the seven current commissioners on the Denali Commission, holding the seat reserved for AFN.


With a nomination from congressional leadership, the U.S. secretary of commerce selects the federal co-chair of the commission. The co-chair is an employee of the Commerce Department, and breaks commission votes that are tied.

Kitka said in February that she’s stepping down from AFN to make room for new leadership and vision. She indicated she might step down this fall, giving the organization time to transition. The change follows a rocky period for the Alaska Native organization, which has seen a few important tribal and corporate entities leave the group, some citing tension over issues such as salmon or land.

The federally funded Denali Commission was created in 1998 by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and has survived efforts in D.C. to kill it. Budgets proposed under former President Donald Trump sought to eliminate the agency, when a 2020 budget document cited Alaska’s Permanent Fund wealth as justification that the state didn’t need the federal support.

Alaska’s congressional delegation has successfully fought to keep the commission alive.

The Denali Commission reported in fiscal year 2023 having total budgetary resources of $122 million, including $74 million in past unobligated balances.

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