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Episode 77: AFN – 50 years of change

By KTVA Alaska 6:16 PM October 16, 2016

This week on Frontiers, we turn the clock back to October 1966 – the year the Alaska Federation of Natives formed.

In the confines of a half-hour program, it’s hard to do this David and Goliath story justice, but we hope to give our viewers an appreciation of how some of Alaska’s most economically disadvantaged people came together to change history.

When the AFN convention gets underway in Fairbanks this Thursday, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Like tributaries in the great river of history, a number of groups fought for land and civil rights prior to the formation of AFN. The Alaska Native Brotherhood in Southeast Alaska, the Tanana Chiefs Conference in the Interior, and the Arctic Slope Native Association were among those that led the charge.

But AFN united groups across the state like never before and has now become the dominant voice for Alaska Natives. Its five-year battle for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was a watershed moment for indigenous peoples the world over.

When President Richard Nixon signed ANCSA in December 1971, the federal government not only recognized Native land rights, but also agreed to return 44 million acres and pay almost $1 billion in compensation for lands taken.

Historians have referred to ANCSA as a “flawed victory.” It was a fraction of what leaders in the land fight believed Alaska Natives were owed, yet a far better deal than what Congress initially offered – and there was always the possibility they could have received nothing.

Some of the highlights of this week’s show:

  • The birth of AFN through the eyes of Emil Notti and Willie Hensley.
  • An interview with Megan Alvanna-Stimfle, a young Native leader from Nome who will give AFN’s keynote speech this year along with Emil Notti.
  • Analysis from veteran journalists Nellie Moore and Joaqlin Estus. Moore is of Inupiat heritage and one of the first Alaska Native journalists to broadcast in Alaska. Estus is of Tlingit ancestry and the news director at KNBA, which will provide live radio coverage of this week’s AFN Convention.
  • A look at Donna Pulliam’s amazing beadwork. Pulliam, who is an Interior Athabascan, is one of those with a booth at AFN’s customary art show. She works all year to prepare.

One of the things I love about being a journalist in Alaska is that statehood and many of the state’s institutions are relatively new, compared to the rest of the United States.

AFN had many heroes and heroines with equally compelling stories that we did not touch upon in this week’s program – leaders such as John Borbridge, Marlene Johnson and Howard Rock, but we hope we have whetted your appetite to learn more about this week’s historic milestone.

You also might find of interest our May 2015 show which featured a tribute to the late Charlie “Etok” Edwardsen, one of the major players in the Native land claims fight. “Etok,” as he was known, was one of those Alaskans who shaped history by the sheer force of his personality.

Also want to give special thanks to the many organization, which shared their archival footage, photographs and historical documents with us for this week’s program: the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Tuzzy Consortium Library, the Upeagvik Native Corporation, the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association, the Alaska Film Archives and the Anchorage Museum, as well as the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C. and the Richard Nixon Library.

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