Tlingit and Haida, Tanana Chiefs Conference withdraw from Alaska Federation of Natives

Tlingit and Haida headquarters
The Andrew Hope Building, pictured here on Feb. 10, 2021, houses the headquarters of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced Monday that it would withdraw from the Alaska Federation of Natives.

AFN, which has a membership of more than 200 tribes and corporations, promotes cultural preservation, political advocacy and economic development. It’s the largest statewide Alaska Native organization.

Tlingit and Haida is Alaska’s largest federally recognized tribe. Its executive council voted to withdraw from AFN at a meeting on May 1. At a press conference Tuesday morning, President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson said AFN membership “doesn’t feel as necessary” as it used to.

“As you take a look at the work we’re doing, the membership dues and everything else, it just seemed like time,” he said. “We’ve had the conversation numerous times.”

Peterson said Tlingit and Haida paid about $65,000 in membership dues each year. 

The Fairbanks-based Tanana Chiefs Conference also announced it would leave AFN on Monday. In a statement, the conference said the time and money required to participate in AFN should be “utilized to their maximum potential to advance TCC’s Tribal priorities.” 

Those priorities include salmon and subsistence protection, which Tanana Chiefs Conference says AFN hasn’t taken significant action on.

Peterson said he supports their decision.

“Their reasons are different than ours,” Peterson said. “We stand united on many of their issues. We support TCC just like we will any region that asks for our support.”

Peterson said Tlingit and Haida’s decision isn’t meant to show opposition to AFN or a lack of unity with other members. Instead, he said, it’s about Tlingit and Haida’s growing capacity to advocate for regional causes and manage relationships with the state and federal governments on its own.

“I don’t want it to look like a divorce,” Peterson said. “We’re the kids who grew up and are moving out of the house.”

The withdrawal from AFN is the latest in a series of major moves for Tlingit and Haida this year. In January, Peterson signed a deed to put a parcel of land into federal trust, which the state is challenging in court. But the Tribe has strengthened its relationship with the state, too — it’s one of five tribal organizations to receive a state-tribal education compacting grant. And in March, the Tribe purchased another acre of property in downtown Juneau as part of an ongoing effort to return ownership of traditional lands.

Spokespeople for AFN did not reply to requests for comment Monday.

This story has been updated.

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