Gathering Through the Airwaves

For the second year in a row, the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention was held virtually in 2021. As in previous years, KNOM broadcast a live feed of the important convention.

The 2021 convention celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). A panel, consisting of Nelson Angapak, Willie Hensley, Roy Huhndorf, Ken Johns, Sam Kito, Jr., Georgianna Lincoln, and Rosita Worl, spoke about the history of ANCSA. They highlighted the Alaska Native public service and leadership that originated in the villages, to empower their own communities with local education, airports, healthcare, hunting rights, and numerous other areas. “We’ve had to be creative to empower our people and to have a say in how things are done,” one panelist declared. “We had a mission, and my gosh, we did it.”

The convention’s virtual nature prompted a conversation about access. Without costly travel to the city where it’s held, it is easier for some in remote communities to attend – that is, if their community has reliable internet. Limited internet access is still a barrier for many village residents.

Also, many miss the community aspect of being together in person. Artisans lose an important revenue stream by not being able to sell art and crafts at the normally bustling fair. Dancers lose an important venue to perform and share the joy of cultural expression.

The convention is the largest representative gathering of Indigenous people in the United States. Because discussions at AFN can spark policy proposals both in the state and with federal partners, it is an important event for many KNOM listeners. And on the airwaves, anyone with a radio has a front-row seat.

Image at top: Dancing at Kingikmiut Dance Festival in Wales, an important dance festival, in 2015. AFN’s Quyana Night celebration, one of the state’s largest dance stages, has been empty since the last in-person convention in 2019.