When two major tribal organizations pulled-out of the Alaska Federation of Natives last week, many wondered how AFN would respond.
As Rhonda McBride from our flagship station KNBA reports, AFN is saying very little and asking its early leaders to do the talking.
Tlingit and Haida and the Tanana Chiefs Conference are among some of the largest tribal organizations in the state.
Their sudden exit brings the number of recent departures from AFN to five, including three prominent Native corporations the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Doyon, and the Aleut Corporation.
After AFN held its quarterly board meeting this week, it announced plans for its next convention, but only made brief mention of the departures.
Instead, it said it had asked a few of its founders to reflect on the sacrifices made to form AFN, apparently for the benefit of today’s leaders.
“They’re living the dream that their grandparents sacrificed for.”
Emil Notti was one of those invited to speak at the meeting.
He was the first president of AFN, which successfully fought for one of the largest land claims settlements in U.S. history.
Notti says he told the AFN board how early leaders donated a lot of time and effort to fight for land claims at a great personal cost.
Members passed the hat to pay for the travel to Washington D.C.
Natives across the state gave what they could, even if they could only spare a few dollars.
Some mortgaged their homes.
He says today’s leaders have good jobs and good educations, things they take for granted.
“AFN is a gift to them from their ancestors and grandfathers who donated money to make a strong organization, and that they should do what they can to keep it.”
Notti worries that the strength of the organization could be lost, little by little — and Natives, as a group, could lose power.
Tlingit and Haida’s president Richard Peterson has said the decision is not meant as an attack on AFN – but instead, a sign that the organization is ready to do its own advocacy and no longer needs AFN.
Tanana Chiefs has said AFN hasn’t done enough to protect subsistence.
But many have wondered if there were other reasons for the sudden exits, including Rosita Worl, head of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a non-profit founded by Sealaska, the regional corporation for Southeast Alaska.
“You know what? I absolutely don’t know what it could be. Everyone was startled and none of us had any inkling of it.”
Worl believes Tlingit and Haida’s departure from AFN could affect both Sealaska shareholders and tribal members, who should have been included in a wider conversation.
Some Native leaders have wondered if dissatisfaction with AFN’s longtime president, Julie Kitka, was behind the move.
Worl hopes that’s not true, because she says Kitka has been highly effective.
She pointed to AFN’s Alaska Day in Washington D.C. this March, which brought six White House cabinet members and four generals together, to meet with Alaska Native leaders.
Worl says she sat next to Pete Buttigieg, President Biden’s transportation secretary.
“I mean, we have someone at the leadership helm who can pick up the phone and call the White House and can command that kind of presence of national leaders.”
Both Rosita Worl and Emil Notti say they hope the groups, which have left AFN, will do what the organization did in the old days – meet and talk out their differences.
This week, the first lady made a quick stop in Bethel, AK, where she highlighted the administration’s broadband investments.
KYUK’s Francisco Martinezcuello reports.
Jill Biden, along with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), were warmly greeted on the tarmac by U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (Yup’ik/D-AK); Rose Dunleavy (Inupiaq), the first lady of the State of Alaska; and Bethel Mayor Rose “Sugar” Henderson, during a quick visit to Bethel where internet access is very limited.
The First Lady highlighted a broadband fiber optic extension being constructed this year.
“This is one of the largest tribal broadband expansions in the country. With high-speed internet, you’ll have better access to critical healthcare, new educational tools, and remote job opportunities. It will change lives. It will save lives.”
The Biden Administration has awarded $386 million in Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) grants to 21 projects throughout Alaska, with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2021.
In 2022, the Biden Administration awarded roughly $125 million in funding to two broadband infrastructure deployment projects in the YK Delta. One of these projects is the Alaska FiberOptic Project.
The other funding is going directly to the Airraq network, an initiative developed in partnership from the Bethel Native Corporation, and GCI – Alaska’s largest telecommunications company.
“An Airraq isn’t the story itself. It’s a tool that helps us tell it. A simple string that becomes a thing of beauty with the creativity and joy and hope we bring to it. The connections of this community are already deep. But with Airraq, you will be able to bring them to life in new ways.”
After the speech, there was a performance from Ayaprun Elitnaurvik students and Biden was given a red, white and blue kuspuk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced $16 million in funding for projects to help increase participation in WIC, which provides supplements foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education to women, infants, and children.
Some tribal programs are among the 36 projects to receive funding.
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