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The 2024 Alaska Federation of Natives Congress looks to the future

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) has unveiled plans for its October convention in Anchorage, which includes a program dedicated to the emerging generation of Alaska Natives.

AFN President Julie Kitka said this year’s theme, “Our Children, Our Future Ancestors,” was timely.

“I think it will be a truly unique congress,” said Kitka, “and also very forward-looking.”

Kitka said the meeting will discuss “The Way Forward Report,” prepared by a national commission on indigenous children and named after two deceased elders: Alyce Spotted Bear, a Great Plains tribal leader, and Walter Soboleff, a Lingít scholar and religious leader from Southeast Alaska.

Both were passionate advocates for the rights of indigenous children. Before Soboleff died at the age of 102, he often encouraged young people to “take care of the older people you will be.”

Kitka said the commission's report was sent to President Biden and Congress in February and contains many recommendations that require thorough consideration at the convention.

“We can make things better for our children without being satisfied with what is,” Kitka said. “Things can get better, and we can make things easier for them and give them more opportunities.”

After 33 years, this will be the last convention Kitka will lead as president. Although she announced her retirement earlier this year, Kitka said she was both surprised and honored to be asked to deliver this year's keynote address.

“The time is ripe for change and I see the transition at AFN as an opportunity for someone new to take on responsibility and bring in completely new ideas and approaches,” said Kitka. “It's part of the process. It's good.”

Kitka said the AFN executive board plans to elect her successor before the party congress, so it is likely that the new president will also give a speech at the party congress.

Kitka said she expects subsistence farming and national policy will be the focus. She said Rep. Thomas Baker's proposal to pass a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take back control of subsistence farming on federal lands is the first time the state has had that discussion in more than two dozen years. The Kotzebue Republican's proposed resolution, HJR 22, failed to gain support last session, but Kitka said it is worth a more in-depth discussion during the AFN.

“I think one of the most important issues of the congress is the national issues where the indigenous community can show that they care,” Kitka said. “I think that will be a very important issue.”

The three-day meeting is scheduled to begin Oct. 17. It is the largest convention in the state and attracts delegates and their families from across Alaska.

Anna Harden

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