The Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest organization of Alaska Native people, has postponed their annual convention to December, citing concerns over the high rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The three-day event was scheduled for October 21-23 in Anchorage. However, AFN President Julie Kitka said in a statement Tuesday, “the high-risk factors of holding a 5,000-person indoor meeting, with delegates coming in from across Alaska, make an in-person October gathering out of the question.”
Cases of COVID-19 have risen steadily over the past month in Anchorage, with the convention’s host city reporting its highest number of hospitalizations from the virus since December.
The pandemic already pushed the annual Elder’s and Youth conference to be held virtually this year. That conference is an Alaska Native gathering that typically occurs the same week as AFN.
AFN officials continue to opt for an in-person convention with a virtual option.
They say the exact dates, times and agenda for the AFN convention will be announced in the coming weeks. After reviewing data and guidance from federal, state and tribal health leaders, the AFN board will also make a final decision in October on whether the convention will be in-person or not.
The theme of this year’s convention is “ANCSA at 50: Empowering Our Future”, commemorating the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, a landmark land claims law that established the 12 regional Alaska Native Corporations and more than 200 village corporations. AFN co-chair Joe Nelson said in a statement that postponing the convention will allow the attendees to properly celebrate ANCSA but, “it all hinges on everyone’s willingness to get vaccinated.”
AFN represents members from 11 of the 12 regional Native Corporations and more than 191 federally recognized tribes.