Last week, KYUK provided daily updates from the 2017 Alaska Federation of Natives conference. KYUK’s Christine Trudeau was there and filed this story:
This year's AFN wrapped up with a new dance competition and a banquet. Resolutions were passed, and all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation spoke.
“And my pledge to you is to continue to work for Alaska's Native people. To provide for you, but not give you,” said Representative Don Young.
“Promise to fight for you on this issue until the honey bucket is finally placed in a museum, and we're gonna make progress on this,” said Representative Dan Sullivan.
“The world around us is changing,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “Socially, economically, and ecologically, and we all know that climate change is at the heart of this change.”
The convention's theme was unity, but divisions over resource development lurked under the surface. There were moments when those divisions could be seen on the floor. For instance, when co-chair Will Mayo of interior Alaska told the crowd of his personal concerns about the prospect that Congress may soon use the budgetary process to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and that the caribou who reproduce there will change their migration path.
“And I know that AFN's official position is supporting the development there, and as a co-chair I have to respect that,” said Mayo, “but I also have to tell you the truth of my heart and it brings me to tears.”
The AFN board has been in favor of drilling in the refuge since 1995. With all the Alaskans appointed to the Interior department, it's clear that the Trump administration will push for it.
There was a group of protesters just outside the convention center on the final day, and their concerns were clear. Among them was Sarah James of Arctic Village, a longtime campaigner against ANWR drilling.
“This is human rights for us, as Gwichin, as Indian people in America. We win this, we gonna win human rights,” said James. “And we gonna win subsistence way of life. We gonna be proud Gwichin, proud Inupiak. Proud all of us!”
Awards are always a highlight of the Convention.
The Elder of the Year is 95-year-old Isaac Akootchuk. Gertrude Svarny is the Culture Bearer. Maisie Kenworthy was given the Lu Young Youth Leadership Award and Roy Huhndorf received the Doctor Walter Soboleff "Warriors of Light" Award. Master Sergeant Kelly Shufelt Turner was awarded for Public Service and Buddy Ogleesik received Parent of the Year. The Della Keats "Healing Hands" award went to Ethel Lund.
The resolutions that are passed set the direction for the Federation in the coming year, and passing them is never a quick process. This year, only a few of the 43 resolutions were tabled.
One, however, was so controversial that it sent the convention into an executive session. The subject was political endorsements, something the Federation rarely did until a few years ago. The last resolution would have barred the AFN board from endorsing a candidate without a vote of the membership. As a vote was in progress on an amendment to completely forbid endorsements, there was a call for Executive Session that was quickly agreed to by Resolutions Committee Chair Greg Razo.
The parliamentarian ruled that the doors could not be closed in the middle of a vote and the amendment was defeated. The doors then did close for about 20 minutes, and when they opened again the resolution had been passed, but will not take effect at the next convention. This means that the board remains free to make endorsements for the 2018 election.
The resolutions from the Elders and Youth Conference did not get passed. That included one urging measures to allow Lesbian-Gay-Transgender-Bisexual-Queer (LGTBQ) people to feel accepted and happy in their communities. The Board plans to take up those resolutions at its next meeting.
Resolutions on climate change impacts passed for the most part. An endorsement of the long-sought law allowing Vietnam Veterans to get their land allotments passed, and the AFN went on record calling to legalize the use of fossil mastodon ivory in Native craftwork. Several resolutions that passed were amended to include language responding to the state's new recognition of tribes.
AFN ended its convention with something new. Several group finalists competed in the Southcentral Foundation’s, “Indig-e-dance,” for a $10,000 grand prize. First place went to a group from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta called Achughluk.