The 51st Alaska Federation of Natives convention wrapped up in Anchorage on Saturday. Delegates passed a number of resolutions and heard from all three members of the state’s congressional delegation.
AFN’s last day saw a flurry of activity, starting with an informal and unwritten speech by Congressman Don Young. He touched on the history of AFN and some of the ills confronting Alaska, including social isolation he said is the result of overusing technology. Young told the crowd one antidote from the dizzying pace of news and information is taking time to just visit with friends. And, the 84-year-old said he avoids social media.
“I’m the smartest congressman in Congress,” Young said. “And you’ll say, ‘How could he dare say that?’ And I’ll tell you why! I’ve never Twittered, wiggled or giggled – I have no idea what I’m doing. That makes me really smart as a congressman because everyone gets in trouble in Congress because of their cell phone.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan’s address covered a number of topics, including veterans, the opioid crisis and Alaska’s relationship with the Trump Administration. Sullivan counted off Alaskans recently appointed to prominent federal positions, including Tara Sweeny, Joe Balash and Chris Hladick. And he described a high-level meeting earlier this year with President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke focused on development opportunities in Alaska. Sullivan said during the encounter Trump asked if he should scrap the last administration’s executive action that officially restored the name of North America’s tallest mountain back to Denali.
“And Sen. Murkowski and I jumped over the desk and we said ‘No! No, don’t wanna reverse that,’” Sullivan said. “And he looked at me and he said ‘Well, why?’ And I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, with all due respect to previous presidents, Alaska Native people named that mountain over 10,000 years ago. And by the way, that was the Athabascan people, and my wife’s Athabascan, and if you change that name back now she’s gonna be really, really mad.’ So he was like ‘Alright, we won’t do that.’”
Delegates approved dozens of resolutions spanning a broad range of topics. The body voted to change how it will endorse political candidates in statewide elections, putting the matter before delegates instead of the AFN board. The village of Savoonga brought forward a successful measure asking that legally obtained walrus ivory and marine mammal products be exempted from state-level ivory bans, an issue coastal communities say is still hurting livelihoods. And a proposal from the Chenega Corp. to transfer municipal lands held in trust by the state to local tribal and corporate entities was tabled and referred to the AFN board.
Outside the convention center, a protest organized by a group called Defend the Sacred rallied against proposed development projects in Bristol Bay, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and trans-boundary mines in Canada.
Between 50 and 100 people gathered in a light snow to chant, wave signs and listen to speeches.
Earlier in the week, AFN saw two major legal victories. The governor signing a compact to give tribal entities more control over child welfare services, and the state attorney general issued an opinion officially recognizing 229 tribes in Alaska as fully sovereign – recognition the state of Alaska has avoided for decades.
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