FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Federation of Natives is officially backing an expansion of the Alaska Legislature.
AFN delegates approved a resolution supporting Ballot Measure 1 on Saturday, the final day of their annual conference at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.
The ballot measure would expand the size of the 60-member Alaska Legislature by 10 percent, adding four additional representatives and two more senators. The size of the Legislature has remained unchanged since statehood.
The need for continued Native representation in the Legislature was a recurring theme of the conference. Rural areas are expected to lose districts when the state is reapportioned because of population growth in other parts of the state. Expanding the size of the Legislature is touted as a way to maintain a Native presence.
Buttons with the phrase “I’m a Yes” were commonly seen at the AFN convention, indicating support for both Ballot Measure 1 and a Proposition B, a $397 million capital bond measure than includes projects in rural Alaska.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski even threw her support behind Ballot Measure 1 in her speech to AFN on Thursday. She urged Natives to support it “to make sure that the state of Alaska listens to its rural people.”
Delegates opened the session with a resolution honoring former AFN Chairman Flore Lekanof Sr., who died on Sept. 17.
A group of delegates from the Aleutian region sang “Glory to God in the Highest” in the Aleut language in recognition of Lekanof’s Russian Orthodox faith.
Lekanof, who grew up on St. George Island, served as the first AFN chairman in 1966 before being named director of Alaska Native Affairs in Washington D.C. in 1972. He became principal of Scenic Park Elementary School in Anchorage in 1975, the first Alaska Native to be appointed as a school principal.
Lekanof received the AFN Public Service Award in 2006.
The resolutions also included a pledge by AFN to pursue more funding for suicide prevention, specifically through reducing substance abuse and depression through the promotion of Native culture. AFN also hopes to better prepare communities for suicide prevention and how to respond to incidents of suicide.
Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the nation, and the resolution stated that Alaska Native suicide rates are five times the national average.
Natasha Singh, a Fairbanks resident whose family is from Stevens Village, spoke about the toll that suicides take on village life. She said the deaths are often linked to sexual, physical and drug abuse.
“These individuals who take their lives are our loved ones,” she said.
The final resolution of the day established an AFN Alaska Native Languages Commission.
The newly established commission will politically advocate on behalf of Alaska Native languages, share research, and work to find money for Alaska Native language revitalization efforts.
The resolution said that Alaska’s Native languages are all “endangered or severely endangered,” and that steps need to be taken to preserve them.
“Alaska Native languages are inherently valuable and constitute vital sources of identity for Alaska Native peoples, reinforcing the cultural, geographic, and ethnic ties that make us unique,” the resolution stated.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.