Alaska senators address AFN on convention’s final day

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan addressing AFN at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center on Oct. 20, 2018. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)(Photo

The 52nd annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention concluded Oct. 20 in Anchorage with high-level addresses from Alaska’s senators, and AFN delegates still reeling from the news that Gov. Bill Walker is suspending his re-election campaign.

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Delivering her invocation at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, Rev. Shirley Lee referenced what a lot of people were talking about Saturday morning: Walker departing the election.

“Heavenly father, yesterday we witnessed your most humble servant place service before self,” Lee said. “May we all be like that servant.”

The shake-ups in the governor’s race reached all the way to Iceland, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski was attending a conference on the Arctic. During a video address to the AFN convention, Murkowski gave a brief overview of her legislative priorities on behalf of Alaska Natives in Washington. Her remarks returned repeatedly to a theme that has dominated much of this year’s AFN: how to reduce Alaska’s high rates of violence against women.

“Indigenous women have a fundamental right to live without fear of assault in their lifetime,” she said.

Addressing a recent federal court ruling challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act – or ICWA – Murkowski said she’s committed to protecting the law’s status.

“ICWA may be the most single significant piece of Indian legislation that congress has passed. So know that we are not going down without a fight on this,” she said. “I am in this with you, and we will work to ensure that our native families remain together.”

Her remarks were followed by an appearance by Alaska’s junior Sen. Dan Sullivan. He highlighted his legislative efforts to bring more resources to survivors of sexual assault, and his ongoing advocacy on behalf of Alaska veterans.

“That the statistics, whether its World War Two, or Korea, or Vietnam, or even the wars today, where Alaska Natives serve at higher rates in the military than any other ethnic group,” he said. “What I like to refer to, as the secretary mentioned, as special patriotism.”

The secretary mentioned was Robert Wilkie, head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was Wilkie’s first visit to Alaska since taking over the VA, though he told the audience about living in the state as a child.

“When I come here now and see the astounding growth, the continued patriotism, and the beauty of this state, it is very obvious that America’s future points to the north and to the west,” he said. “So thank you very much.”

The convention passed a number of resolutions, but avoided weighing in on two controversial measures. There was no endorsement in the governor’s race, and the body did not take a stance on ballot measure one.

Next year’s AFN is scheduled to take place in Fairbanks.