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Laughter and Respect

With Moses Wassilie at the AFN Art Fair

October is a transitional month in Nome: the days get darker, the ground hardens, the harbor freezes. If they can, Nomeites leave for some or all of this month and return just in time to settle in to the long winter.

I was part of this October exodus last week as I headed to Fairbanks with Laureli. Unlike other Nomeites, however, we were not going on vacation: we were traveling to report on the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). I wish I could write a blog post for each day that Laureli and I spent reporting on AFN, but unfortunately there’s only one shot to tell you how absolutely incredible the experience was.

The Alaska Federation of Natives convention draws people from all over the state of Alaska, and many from the Lower 48 and Hawai’i, every year to Anchorage or Fairbanks. Some are delegates who represent their tribal organization, many are spectators who want to keep connected to the politics of the region and the concerns of the Native communities of Alaska, and some are there just to visit with family and friends and have fun. Most people at AFN come for a combination of those reasons.

The whole convention is empowering: people gather together to talk about what is important to them, from moose hunting techniques to country music. Discussions about subsistence rights, suicide prevention, and youth empowerment added to, rather than detracted from, the energy at the Carlson Center as cousins walked arm-in-arm through the art fair, mothers toted their babies past health fair exhibits, and young men jostled in line to buy pickled salmon outside of the event. Laughter and respect intermingled both onstage and off. At the art exhibits, a man stood behind a table of the sealskins he was selling and described the pride he felt watching his daughter go hunting for the first time. At the podium, Valerie Davidson discussed healthcare reform opportunities. Later that evening, Native dance groups from all over the state took the stage for Quyana Night to showcase and share their local dances and stories.

It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many reflective, positive, active people. I’m excited to revisit the convention through the music and stories that I recorded during my time there, and to share that music and those stories with Western Alaska. I hope that the energy from this week will be reflected in these recordings, and that they will be uplifting for our region through the winter.