Native convention to focus on subsistence, racism, substance abuse

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An estimated 3,000 Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts are expected Thursday at the 36th annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

The theme of the four-day convention is ''Our World, Our Way of Life,'' said spokesman John Tetpon.

Delegates will discuss a host of issues, among them subsistence rights, discrimination, and this year, how best to use a $15 million grant to find solutions to drug and alcohol abuse, Tetpon said.

''We will be working on a new issue that is probably way overdue,'' Tetpon said.

After discussions by various panels throughout the convention, delegates will vote Saturday morning on resolutions.

Gov. Tony Knowles will address delegates Thursday morning and discuss the need for a subsistence solution. Federal law requires the state to give rural residents a priority for subsistence use of fish and game. The Alaska Constitution states that fish, wildlife and water are to be reserved for the common use of all Alaskans.

The disparity prompted federal takeovers of subsistence on federal lands and waters in 1990 and 1999 respectively.

Subsistence will come up at a panel discussion Friday morning on co-management, the concept of government agencies sharing power with Alaska Natives in writing subsistence regulations.

This will be the first AFN convention since three white youths attacked Natives with paintballs in downtown Anchorage last winter. Alaska advisers to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will take testimony on discrimination Thursday afternoon.

The keynote speaker Thursday morning is Francesca Sutton, a Yup'ik woman from Togiak who travels around rural Alaska making presentations about problems rural youths face with drugs and alcohol.

Rural regions are in line for $15 million in new federal money, obtained with help from U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that can be used to find solutions to drug and alcohol abuse.

''That's something we're going to be focusing on for the next five or six years,'' Tetpon said.

The money is not meant to supplant other state and federal programs, he said.

''We want to support and help villages develop and create their own solutions,'' he said. ''It's a bottom-up program.''

AFN has identified four major areas for spending the money: support for local-option communities and other communities interested in alcohol control; enhancement of the Village Public Safety Officer program and improvement of rural law enforcement; restorative justice programs that include alternative sentencing options; and support for statewide sobriety efforts, including statewide communications, education, and support of cultural and spirit camps.

The convention will put out the message that the Native community is well, its culture is intact and family structures are in place, Tetpon said.

''The thing that needs fixing, we are ready to fix,'' he said.

Here is a list of the 19 communities to receive services under the Village Safe Water Program.

1. Akiak

2. Alakanuk

3. Ambler

4. Brevig Mission

5. Buckland

6. Chevak

7. Deering

8. Golovin

9. Goodnews Bay

10. Kongiganak

11. Kwigillingok

12. Minto

13. Napakiak

14. New Stuyahok

15. Nunapitchuk

16. Ruby

17. St. Michael

18. Shungnak

19. Tetlin

Source: Department of Environmental Conservation


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