AFN attendees “Rise as One”

On Thursday, Oct. 23, during the opening hours of the 2014 annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), the President of the United States appeared in a pre-recorded video and greeted the audience with: “Waqaa!”

It may have been the first time a U.S. president ever uttered the traditional Yup’ik greeting, and it was met with a rowdy cheer from the crowd. Minutes later, in a room packed with nearly two hundred people, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill into law that makes Dena’ina, Iñupiaq, Tlingit, Yup’ik and sixteen other Alaska Native languages official languages of Alaska. Speakers of almost every now-official language were present to say words of thanks and to tell stories of being forbidden to speak their Alaska Native language.

“Preserving Alaska Native languages is essential for understanding the history of Alaska Native people, as languages are a strong reflection of our cultures,” said Sophie Minich, president and CEO of CIRI. Since 2013, CIRI has been a strong supporter of “In My Family,” a series of short videos produced by and shown on Alaska Public Media’s KAKM that teaches young people about indigenous languages.

Some 5,000 delegates congregated at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage to discuss key issues, share information and set the course for AFN in the coming year. Most events emphasized the convention’s theme, “Rise as One,” as attendees were encouraged to work together to address issues faced by Alaska Native people and to vote in this year’s Nov. 4 general election. AFN participants also had an opportunity to hear from candidates running for U.S. Senate, Alaska governor and lieutenant governor. A series of debates drew standing-room-only crowds.

CIRI and CIRI-affiliated nonprofits hosted a number of booths at the convention, while CIRI shareholder Miriam Aarons delivered the keynote address with youth and community advocate Mao Tosi. The Alaska Native Justice Center – along with the Alaska Bar Association’s Alaska Native Law Section, the Alaska Federation of Natives and Alaska Legal Services Corporation – also hosted the 4th Annual Elizabeth Peratrovich Legal Clinic, offering free legal counsel to AFN convention attendees who had requested assistance.

[lightbox link=”” thumb=”×300.jpg” width=”200″ align=”left” title=”CIRI shareholder Aaron Leggett, winner of the 2014 AFN Culture Bearer award.” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”CIRI shareholder Aaron Leggett, winner of the 2014 AFN Culture Bearer award. Courtesy of Chris Arend Photography.“]On the final day of the convention, AFN President’s Awards were bestowed on two members of the CIRI family. CIRI shareholder Aaron Leggett, of Anchorage,was honored with the Culture Bearer award for his strong involvement in the arts and preservation of Alaska Native cultures. And CIRI descendant Trinity Standifer, of Tyonek, was given the Lu Young Youth Leadership award for her demonstrated leadership qualities.

“Subsistence or ‘food security’ issues continue to be top priority of AFN,” said AFN Resolutions Committee Chairman Greg Razo, a CIRI shareholder and employee, “as do State and Federal issues impacting the health, safety and welfare of Alaska Native people. [lightbox link=”” thumb=”×300.jpg” width=”200″ align=”right” title=”CIRI descendant Trinity Standifer, winner of the 2014 AFN Lu Young Youth Leadership award.” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”CIRI descendant Trinity Standifer, winner of the 2014 AFN Lu Young Youth Leadership award.Courtesy of Chris Arend Photography.“]

Economic issues affecting tribes, businesses and Alaska Native non-profit organizations received major attention from Convention delegates.”

Razo was present on the final Convention day to announce the outcome of the AFN board’s action on resolutions. “A full debate on the endorsements occurred in an executive session where everyone could speak freely. Ultimately, an endorsement for Senator Mark Begich and an endorsement for the Governor/Lt. Governor team of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott were approved by the delegates.”

For individuals who couldn’t attend the convention, KNBA provided live coverage, and a live-stream was available both on television and on the web. For the first time, CIRI provided coverage over Twitter, live-tweeting the event with minute-to-minute updates.