Rich in custom and culture, Alaska Natives are committed to preserving thousands of years of ancient tradition. Though environmental and other changes have threatened the Alaskan way of life at times, cultural survival has been contingent upon the conservation of deep-rooted traditions. As we continue to move through the 21st century, the focus is on two things: where Alaskans came from and where we are going—past and future; tradition and innovation.
Innovation has long been part of Alaska Native culture, so it makes sense that the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), Alaska’s largest statewide Native organization, chose Innovation in the Past, Present, and Future as the theme of this year’s annual convention. AFN President Julie Kitka wants to highlight the creative energy and “cool ideas” that Alaska Natives have achieved technologically, adaptationally, culturally, and politically for generations.
This theme will set the tone for the 3-day convention, which is the largest gathering of indigenous Alaskans across the United States. AFN’s mission is to promote the cultural, economic, and political voice of our community, and this event serves as a platform from which the voices of Alaska Natives can be heard. Community concerns, policy goals for the coming year, and upcoming elections are all addressed in this unique forum.
Here are three key areas where the AFN will focus their attention, now through 2022:
- Creating opportunities with the federal administration. The goal is to encourage entrepreneurship and small business development throughout Alaska, which promotes job growth and stimulates the economy. This will also ensure that issues concerning Alaska and Alaska Natives—including eligibility for federal resources to fund schools and public safety programs—are better represented in Congress.
- Asserting Alaska Natives’ place in law, policy, and public engagement. Achieving formal recognition of Alaska’s tribes will empower future generations to collaborate with previous ones to shape the trajectory of the Native community in years to come.
- Enhance relationships between tribes, consortiums, and corporations. Developing a foundation for genuine dialogue between tribes and ANCSA and other organizations is important because it empowers tribal voices. These play a critical role in the Native community, and ensure equal representation in policy decisions.
The resolutions that are passed by the delegates at the convention are prioritized throughout the rest of the year and also influence the efforts of the Alaska Federation of Natives. But policies, community concerns, and government regulations are just one part of what the convention represents. During these three days, the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center is also transformed into a cultural showcase of Alaska’s first people—its traditions, art, dance, and music.
The event brings in over 6,000 people annually, with an economic impact exceeding $6 million. Participants and vendors often dress in traditional attire and communicate in ancient languages and dialects. From Natives performing traditional dances to the music of their region, to the keynote speaker, there is a constant integration of entertainment and education. The convention also boasts an art fair where Alaska Native artisans and American Indians from the rest of the United States showcase and sell their artwork. Attendees can purchase anything from masks to ivory carvings to colorful paintings. To conclude the event, there is a banquet that celebrates the conversations and accomplishments of the convention, as well as the indigenous people and cultures of Alaska.
While tradition is a part of everyday life for Alaska Natives, the AFN conference unites all cultures, ensuring that every voice is heard as the future of Alaska is discussed from the perspective of the indigenous people.