Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, plus several state lawmakers will headline the Alaska Federation of Natives convention whose theme is titled, “Good Government, Alaska Driven.”

The three-day convention begins Thursday in Fairbanks at the Carlson Center and includes some signature features: Quyana Alaska dance performances from groups representing communities statewide, wares sold by Native artists and messages from federal dignitaries like U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

After some preliminary remarks Thursday morning, Dunleavy will kick off the convention with a traditional speech from a sitting governor.

It will be the Republican’s first speech as governor to AFN delegates who last heard from him collectively during a debate with his Democratic opponent Mark Begich — shortly after former Gov. Bill Walker suspended his campaign at the convention.

Since taking office, Dunleavy has received push back from rural communities for his cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System and Medicaid along with his proposal to remove certain local taxing authority, shifting those funds to the state treasury.

Despite the tension, former state Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, reflected on a decades old conversation he had with Tlingit civil rights leader Roy Peratrovich.

“Even if you have problems with that individual, maybe not even respect him, you still have to respect the office,” said Kookesh, who is on the AFN Board of Directors. “The native community has always been that way. We’ve always respected the office of the governor. [...] We’re going to respectful, but we want to be heard.”

Much of the convention agenda speaks squarely to the administration’s actions during Dunleavy’s first year in office.

One panel description specially addresses Dunleavy’s budget priorities:

“'Good government' refers to how well the state’s meeting the needs of Alaskans. In 2019, the Dunleavy Administration tested the bounds of this principle. By example, the governor’s budget and vetoes eliminated (or encumbered) the state’s obligation to provide several constitutionally mandated services.”

Kookesh will sit on one of these panels, joining Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and former state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln.  He said he hopes the convention is a chance for Dunleavy to hear first-hand the effects of his budget reductions.

“We want to tell him that when you cut the ferry system or when you cut Medicaid, here’s how it impacts a person in rural Alaska, or even a person in urban Alaska for heaven’s sake,” he said. “We want to be champions for people in rural Alaska but we also want to take the state as a whole and say we’re all being impacted. We want to take that next step with you governor to show you what the impacts actually are – the end results.”

AFN will also discuss public safety, highlighting Alaska’s rural public safety troubles that are so deep it prompted AG Barr to declare a public safety emergency in Alaska. Barr won’t be returning to Alaska but he will be addressing the convention via live feed.

Bryan Schroder, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, leads a panel on violence against Native women and children, a discussion that comes less than a week after an Anchorage man was accused of torturing and killing Kathleen Henry, a 30-year-old Alaska Native woman.

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