Protest interrupts governor’s speech at AFN conference in Fairbanks

Protesters stand with their back to the stage during Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s speech at the AFN Convention in Fairbanks on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

Protesters stand with their back to the stage during Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s speech at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks on Thursday. (Photo by Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

A group of protesters briefly interrupted Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s address Thursday morning to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, drawing a rebuke from Will Mayo, one of the federation’s co-chairs.

Alaska Native groups have feuded with Dunleavy over his proposals to sharply cut government programs important to rural Alaska, setting a tense backdrop for this year’s convention which has the theme, “Good Government, Alaska Driven.” A few minutes into his speech Thursday, a few dozen protesters rose from their seats at the Fairbanks auditorium, turned their backs and held up their hands.

Some of them began chanting, and one person banged on a drum. Dunleavy briefly talked over them until Mayo, the co-chair, stepped onto the stage and cut off the governor’s speech.

“I respect your right to protest in this way, but I want to ask you with respect to please express your views at the voting booth,” said Mayo, an official with Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Fairbanks-based tribal organization. “Please express your views in a productive way and please don’t come into our house and disrespect our guest.”

Dunleavy resumed his speech where he left off, without acknowledging the protest. Another Tanana Chiefs Conference official, Victor Joseph, followed Dunleavy’s remarks by apologizing to the governor.

A handout circulated by protesters before Dunleavy’s speech asked convention attendees to stand, turn their backs and raise their fists for four minutes to symbolize the $444 million that he vetoed from the state budget earlier this year.

“Stand with Alaska Native leaders to show what we really think of Dunleavy’s leadership,” the handout said, adding a reference to the recall campaign against the governor: “#RecallDunleavy.”

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