Alaska Federation Of Natives, Symbol of Native Unity, Sees Withdrawal Of Key Tribes

Tlingit & Haida Tribal Council Joins Tanana Chiefs In Abandoning AFN  The Alaska Federation of Natives – which used the slogan "Cel...

Tlingit & Haida Tribal Council Joins Tanana Chiefs In Abandoning AFN 

The Alaska Federation of Natives – which used the slogan "Celebrating Our Unity" during its 2022 AFN Convention – has lost two more of its member organizations. The Tlingit and Haida and Tanana Chiefs are leaving AFN.

The Southeast Alaska Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska represents a powerful group of coastal Natives. It announced its departure from the organization in early May, 2023. 

The Tlingit and Haida are joined by the equally powerful Tanana Chiefs Conference, which is located in Fairbanks and represents over 40 villages. 

The Aleuts voted to abandon AFN several months ago. 

News of the recent abandonment by the Tlingit/Haida and Tanana Chiefs groups has been covered heavily by Alaskan and national news sources, including Indian Country Today.  

The Alaska Federation of Natives has been a unique collaboration of Native people throughout Alaska. It was founded in 1966, bringing together rural and urban Natives who are from many different cultural, language, environmental and even genetic backgrounds. 

The Tlingit and Haida come from a strong tradition. During the early days of western contact, the Haida were warriors who used ocean-going canoes for trade and battle along the western coastline. Tlingit and Haida people traded with the Ahtna for copper and made distinctive shields, known as "coppers" for which they are now known. 

The Tanana Chiefs Conference grew from the famed historic "Tanana Chiefs," a group of interior chieftains who banded together in 1915 in Fairbanks to keep the famed Judge James Wickersham from putting Alaska Natives onto reservations. 

The Aleuts are best known for surviving being transplanted from their island homes in World War II under Japanese invasion fears. Aleuts were sent to live in canneries along the coast of Alaska, where many died. 

According to a May 9th, 2023 story in Tribal Business News, the Arctic Regional Corporation on the North Slope  withdrew from AFN in 2019. In 2020, so, briefly, did Doyon. 

Artist at AFN Convention, October 20th, 2017. (Photo, Country Journal) 

Every fall the yearly AFN Convention is one of the largest gatherings of Alaska Natives in the state, acknowledged as a kind of cultural celebration, with singing, dances, forums, reunions with folks from back home, and Native art booths.

Over the years many Copper River people have been awarded recognition from AFN for their cultural leadership. They were just a few leaders over the past decades from around Alaska who have won similar awards from AFN.

Roy Ewan, of Gulkana, was named AFN Citizen of the Year. Eileen Ewan, also of Gulkana, received recognition as AFN's "Culture Bearer" in recognition of her work passing on Ahtna culture to newer generations. Katie John of Mentasta was honored in 2013 with the Hunter-Fisher award. In 1988, Walter Charley was named AFN Citizen of the Year. Dr. Donna Galbreath of Mentasta, who is Senior Medical Director of Quality Assurance For Southcentral Foundation and an Ahtna Athabascan, received the AFN Health Award in 2019 for improving Alaskan health care. Nathaniel Mitchell won the AFN Military Service Award in 2023. Robert Marshall of Tazlina (for whom the CRNA medical center is named) won the 2013 AFN Elder of the Year award. I

Here is a 1988 story from the Country Journal referencing AFN's role in youth life and values: 

AFN participant waits for a car outside the Egan Center on October 20th, 2018. (Photo, Country Journal) 

A story in the Daily News said AFN's president, Julie Kitka was not commenting until after the next board meeting, and that AFN still represents over 200 federally recognized tribes, 184 Native villages, 11 regional tribal consortiums and 9 Native regional corporations. 


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