‘Village Survival’ is This Year’s AFN Theme

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks and Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention got underway in Fairbanks on Thursday.  Thousands of Alaska Native people from all over the state were on hand to hear speeches by government and Native leaders.  This year’s convention theme is “Village Survival” and speakers addressed a range of issues straining rural communities. AFN president Julie Kitka addressed the organization’s annual convention this morning.  She urged Alaska Natives to craft a plan of action on protecting subsistence rights.  She referred to a subsistence resolution to be released Thursday.

Natives can get swept aside by history and be forgotten, Kitka said, or take bold action to achieve their destiny.

“We are unique,” Kitka said, and urged Alaska Natives to work together, rather than remain in isolated pockets around the state.

Kitka’s remarks highlighted the original Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and its more recent amendments as the key to the success of Alaska’s Native corporations.  She called the corporations, “remarkable institutions.” Kitka said, success did not come without challenges, however.

Kitka called the Alaska Native corporations, “tools for us to create our own future and economy.”

“Village Survival” is a battle cry, she said, referring to the theme of this year’s convention.

Kitka called on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearings to take input from village residents on how to make their communities sustainable.  She said the government can help by absorbing some of the risk of projects and providing low interest loans.  Kitka also expressed strong support for continuation of the federal 8(a) program, while calling for reforms to address any abuses in the program that provides no bid government contracts to Alaska Native Corporations.

Two major awards were handed out at AFN today.  The AFN Citizen of the Year Award went to Alaska Native television producer Jeanie Green.   Congressman Don Young was honored with the Denali Award, which goes to a non-native who benefits the Alaska Native community.  Young was moved to tears by the award, but went on to address issues effecting Alaska life, including access to affordable energy and heavy handed federal regulation.

He told Natives to remember their village roots, no matter where they live now.

The Congressman said he would work with the state and federal governments to get alternate forms or energy into Alaska’s villages.  Young said it would be expensive, but less expensive than having all villagers move to Alaska’s cities.

Keynote speaker Gloria O’Neil of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, called on the state to fulfill its responsibility to provide quality education. But she said the responsibility also lies with Alaskans, who need stop tolerating a system that allows their kids to fail.

O’Neil said Alaska Natives need to acknowledge and overcome a painful history in which schools were used as tools of abuse and assimilation.  She said Natives have a right to be angry, but need to transform that into energy to create a better future. A full AFN slate of events including consideration of resolutions on key issues, continues through Saturday at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

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