In a gathering of leaders, the Alaska Federation of Natives board of directors met in retreat at the Nullagvik Hotel in Kotzebue on February 17. Virtually every level of government was represented at the meeting, from small town mayors to an Obama cabinet secretary, from elected officials to commissioners and top level staff.
Besides Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule, North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, and our rural state legislators, the AFN board was joined by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, Alaska Senate President Kevin Meyer, and Alaska House of Representatives Speaker Mike Chenault.
“AFN was pleased to welcome our invited guests to join us in discussing the most important social and economic issues facing us both as Native leaders and communities, and as Alaskans. Our priority for the meeting was strengthening relationships because we know we can do much more working together, than just by ourselves,” stated AFN President Julie Kitka.
“We saw it as imperative that Secretary Jewell come to Alaska to meet,” Kitka added. “Alaska Natives have a special trust relationship with the federal government, which is often embodied within the US Department of Interior and its policy decisions. We have many issues to sort out. AFN was very pleased with the participation of the Alaska Congressional Delegation and values their strong representation in the US Congress. AFN was delighted to have our state legislative leadership take time out of their busy legislative session to join us. We commend Senate President Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault for joining fully in the discussions.”
Many speakers recognized how far the Native community has come after generations of civil rights and land claims battles. The corporations formed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act are powerful economic engines in Alaska. The non-profit tribal health and human services organizations are leaders and innovators in their fields. Even so, many said that Alaska Natives must work even harder to ensure Native people have a “seat at the table” when it comes to critical policy and regulatory decisions. Leaders at the retreat pledged to move beyond dialogue and consultation into more collaborative work on policy and partnerships that will help make Alaska a safe and prosperous place for future generations.
Perhaps most important, relationships were strengthened and new relationships established. Indeed the final hour and a half of the retreat was devoted to a large talking circle. Chairs were pulled to the edge, the podium was relegated to a corner, and the microphone was passed around. Everyone in the circle had the chance to speak, share their impressions of the day, and discuss what they believe needs to happen next.
AFN wishes to thank the community of Kotzebue for allowing us to visit and meet in their beautiful region. AFN thanks the leadership of the Northwest Arctic Borough, NANA Regional Corporation, Maniilaq and the Northwest Arctic School District for their assistance in making the gathering a success. AFN wishes continued success to all the NWALT organizations, the City of Kotzebue, the Native Village of Kotzebue/Kotzebue IRA Council and Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation (KIC). You are true leaders in our state.