The holiday season is upon us – a time to reflect on the many things in our lives we are fortunate to have such as family, close friendships and the time we spend together. I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well and with the opportunity to share the season together.
It was wonderful to see many friends at the Alaska Federation of Native (AFN) Convention in Fairbanks in October. It’s always an uplifting event to see the vibrant diversity of our cultures, while at the same time reflect on how much we have in common – the values of our shared connection to the land, respecting our Elders and caring for one another.
This year’s convention marks the first time that federally recognized tribes enjoyed full voting status and had the chance to elect a representative to the AFN board of directors. In February, the AFN board approved a change in its bylaws to include tribes as equal voting members. CIRI supported this recognition of the tribes by AFN and I’m pleased to see it implemented.
The theme of this year’s AFN Convention, Traditional Native Family Values, provided for inspirational and enlightening stories from the speakers. I was particularly moved by the courageous presentation from a 4-H youth group from the village of Tanana.
While at times, it was difficult to listen to, they delivered a message of poignancy and importance. Each of displaying in bold letters the tribulations each has endured in his or her lives. Bullying. Alcohol and drug abuse. Molestation. Suicide.
These kids did not seek sympathy or apologies. Instead, their personal stories described how these difficult situations impacted their lives and how they found the strength to overcome them which, in some cases, is an ongoing struggle. Their message was about responsibility. Through the courage of these youth, the audience at AFN found hope. As has been the case for thousands of years, the prosperity of the next generation of Alaska Native people depends on the wisdom and values that our generation passes down. Like the youth from Tanana, we share the responsibility to overcome the obstacles and hardships that threaten our way of life and to re-commit to the values and traditions that have strengthened our people and our culture for generations.
I left AFN with a renewed confidence in our shared future. This was bolstered by the election of Ana Hoffman and Tara Sweeney as the new co-chairs of the AFN Board of Directors. Ana and Tara are two inspiring young women in their own right, but significantly, they are the first AFN leaders born after the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The AFN election is a signal of the strong, bright future we have as Alaska Native people. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Meaningful accomplishments are rarely easy. We all have a role to play, and that begins with the message reiterated at AFN – a commitment to traditional Native values.
This is a special time of year to reach out to family and to be thankful for the support, encouragement and laughter they provide. As with my own family, I’m thankful to be part of CIRI’s family of shareholders. Together, we have experienced great accomplishments and I look forward to strengthening the bonds that keep us all connected.
Warm wishes for health and happiness this holiday season.