There’s nothing like the Alaska Federation of Natives anywhere – an organization that is, at its core, a living breathing, civil rights movement. Its annual convention pulses and swells, almost as if it has a heartbeat. 

Whether it’s a governor who chooses the convention to announce the end of his campaign, or a group of teenagers from Tanana who staged a silent but powerful protest against the behavior of adults in their community, there are moments at almost every convention that resonate for years. 

This year, as a giant kuspuk bearing the faces of missing and murdered Native women looked out on the crowd, a series of moments seemed to coalesce. Repeatedly, representatives of state, federal, tribal governments – even the US Attorney General – called for change to a system of law enforcement that leaves Alaska Natives, especially women and children, unprotected.

This week on Frontiers, we look at why this year’s gathering might go down as one of those in which the convention changed the course of history on several fronts.

The convention’s theme, “Good Government, Alaska Driven,” over the course of three days, started a conversation – important, not just to Alaska Natives, but to the entire state.

We also asked Julie Kitka, president of AFN, to weigh in on what she thought the convention accomplished this year. She said the gathering reflected a desire from AFN that Alaska Natives be viewed as a part of the fabric of the state, not a group that exists apart from it.

The same, she said, is true about the nation.

She said she is pleased the US Attorney General recognizes that, with growing national security interests in Alaska, heightened by things going on around the world, the US cannot “afford to have a huge land mass that doesn’t have a working, effective public safety system.”

More of Kitka’s insights are included in this week’s show. Here are some of the highlights:

Taking a Stand on Violence: Why this year’s convention, with its focus on murdered and missing Native women, may mark a turning point.

A Strained Relationship: Starting with a protest during his speech, how much of this year’s convention agenda was a rebuke to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s policies? 

AFN Analysis: Joaqlin Estus, a longtime Alaska Native journalist, looks back at this year’s AFN and explains why it could go down as one of the most important in recent years. 

What’s important to note about this year’s convention: it is intended to be the start of a conversation about planning for Alaska’s future. It’s part of a multi-year theme. Next year’s gathering will be called “Good Government, Alaska Decides.”

On Frontiers, we just scratched the surface of what stood out at this year’s convention. If you missed the convention, you can go to AFN’s website to see recordings of each day’s program.

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