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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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50 Years of Empowering Alaska Natives Lauded

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (CN) — The largest representative annual gathering in the United States of any native peoples, the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, began Thursday with a bit of reflection and renewal as it marked the 50th year that Alaska Natives have joined together.

Because of the convention draws thousands from across the state, it is a must on the schedules of all major state political figures — Alaska's congressional delegation is on hand, as are heads of various federal and state government agencies and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker.

The federation began with the goal of reclaiming ancestral lands. In the years since 1966, it has become a forum to collaborate on common issues that tribes face with federal, state and local governments as well as social ills like alcoholism and domestic violence that affect their people.

"We took the heat, the criticism, the negative editorials," Emil Notti, one of the early founders of the federation and a keynote speaker, recalled.

A half-century ago, then the Athabaskan president of the Cook Inlet Native Association, Notti called for the first statewide meeting of Alaska Natives and their organizations. The chief of Tyonek village, another Athabaskan tribe, provided funding for the meeting from the proceeds of a recent $13 million oil and gas lease on its reserve.

The work of Notti and other elders brought about the passage of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act protecting Native land rights. This act was deemed a success for aboriginal rights, but there are still unresolved issues regarding the inclusion of today's Native youth.

Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle, a member of the King Island Tribal Council and a former legislative assistant to longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, raised a rallying cry while delivering the second keynote address as the "emerging Native leader" representing the future of the federation.

"All of us I think who were born after the deadline feel left out and unimportant, especially those who don't have parents willing to give a few shares until they die," Alvanna-Stimpfle said, quoting her tribe's former chief. "It takes an honest young man to share his emotions, and those are heavy emotions."

In a speech full of emotion and tears, Alvanna-Stimpfle also highlighted other challenges Alaska Natives continue to face.

"The historical trauma that my community has experienced is still with us today," she said. "And it manifests itself in the social ills of poverty, of alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence and sexual assault."

Alvanna-Stimpfle also brought the audience to its feet by singling out each group - elders, adults and youth.

"I urge you all to be the change you want to see in your community and your state, 'cause it's all we got."

She urged the board members of the federation to create a candidate training school at the convention and train Alaska Natives to run for public office, and to support each other to replace the state Legislature.

"We must be ready to run for office," she said. "We must be ready to do the political fight of our lives for our future [and to say] 'We're not going anywhere, we're protectors of this land.'"

She also laughingly shouted "What do I have to do run for Governor?" during part of her speech. That drew some laughter as Gov. Walker had addressed the attendees prior to the keynote addresses and was still in the audience.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, an Alaska Native, followed Alvanna-Stimpfle on stage for a few words and praised both the hard work of the elders like Notti and the energy of new leaders like Alvanna-Stimpfle.

"We heard from Emil [Notti]. Just think about what that generation faced, the incredible odds and how they were overcome," Mallott said. "Megan [Alvanna-Stimpfle] gives us not just a peek into what our future is made of, she gave us a sense that our future is in good hands."

The Alaska Federation of Natives is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 185 federally recognized tribes, 153 village corporations, 12 regional corporations, and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and compact to run federal and state programs.

It is governed by a 38-member board, which is elected by its membership at the annual convention held each October. Each year the convention draws close to 5,000 attendees and the two largest cities in Alaska, Anchorage and Fairbanks, alternate hosting.

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