The population of Fairbanks will grow by thousands of people this week as a multi-year effort culminates in the 2013 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. It will be quite a gathering, one celebrated and enjoyed on many levels. Fairbanks residents should take the opportunity to attend the events, welcome visitors and help wherever needed.
While AFN usually has held its convention in Anchorage, the organization has deep ties to Fairbanks. It’s good to see that in recent years it has decided to return here occasionally and reconnect with those roots.
Alaska Natives formed the organization in 1966 to represent themselves as state and federal officials were dividing up and assigning ownership of Alaska’s land. Following creation of the state in 1959, the pieces began to fall into place, but Alaska Natives saw that those pieces were not coming their way — at least not in any significant sense.
Some of the earliest and strongest advocates for large-scale Native land claims were here in Fairbanks and the nearby villages of Minto and Nenana.
In fact, the dispute surrounding Minto’s claim was one of the catalysts in the chain reaction that led to a statewide land settlement approved by Congress. Minto’s village chief, the late Richard Frank, refused to back down when the state tried to claim the Minto Flats. His insistence that the state and federal governments recognize Minto’s ownership claim helped force a statewide federal land freeze in 1967. That freeze increased pressure on Congress to resolve the claims comprehensively, which it did in 1971.
The 1967 land freeze and the 1971 settlement act probably wouldn’t have succeeded without the Alaska Federation of Natives, though. Through a great deal of hard work and compromise, it succeeded in creating a unified voice for Alaska Natives.
Since then, the organization has continued to fulfill that role. The annual convention, where it discusses issues and adopts policies, is a remarkable and important undertaking.
The action will be centered at the Carlson Center. The week begins Monday with the associated annual Elders and Youth Conference. The convention itself begins Thursday and wraps up Saturday. Each day is full of workshops, presentations and discussions. The evenings feature social events.
Many people in Fairbanks and across the state have been working for years to make this convention happen. It’s finally here, so let’s enjoy the event and ensure it goes so well that AFN will be back for many years to come.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,