AFN’s annual convention will be going virtual

Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson delivers the keynote address at the 2018 annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage on Oct. 18, 2018. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

The Alaska Federation of Natives’ board of directors announced today its annual convention will be going virtual, canceling plans to hold an in-person event in Anchorage this October.

Citing concerns about COVID-19, the group canceled the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives that draws thousands of people from around the state for the multi-day gathering. According to the announcement, the online convention will feature a variety of live and pre-recorded events and will be broadcast online, on television, on KNBA radio and other social media platforms. The virtual convention is scheduled for Oct. 15 and 16.

Its popular “Quyana Alaska,” a collection of cultural performances, will be replaced with a “best of” review show with recordings from previous performances.

“It was a really tough decision, but the health and safety of our delegates, participants, and attendees comes first,” said Julie Kitka, AFN president, in a prepared statement. “The high risk factors of holding a large, indoor meeting, with lots of Elders and delegates coming in from across Alaska, far outweigh the benefits of gathering in person.”

Alaska—and particularly Anchorage—are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the state’s easing of health mandates that has given way to a generally lax approach to curbing the spread of the pandemic. Several Alaska Native villages have imposed travel limitations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, fearing a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic that decimated several rural Alaska Native villages.

The convention’s theme, “Good Governance, Alaskans Decide,” is meant to reflect the 2020 census and the upcoming election. And Kitka said it’s particularly apt given the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Never has the need for responsive, transparent governance been more apparent than this year, with the COVID-19 global pandemic continuing to impact all Alaska communities,” Kitka said in the prepared statement.

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