Citing on-going COVID-19-related health and safety concerns, the Alaska Federation of Natives board of directors announced this week that the 2020 annual convention will be virtual.

“There will be no in-person component to the convention, which was to be held in Anchorage at the Dena’ina Center this October,” a news release states.

The virtual convention is scheduled for Oct. 15-16 and will involve a combination of live presentations and pre-recorded videos. According to the AFN board, the conference will feature a roster of top local, state, federal, and Native leaders and elected officials, including a keynote address by Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. Other aspects of this year’s convention include interactive panels, the organization’s President’s Awards, and more.

“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 news release. “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.”

AFN Communications Director Jeffry Silverman said this will be the first time AFN has hosted a virtual convention. This year’s theme will be “Good Government, Alaskans Decide,” which is a nod toward the 2020 census and the upcoming elections. Silverman said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will be among the topics discussed.

“We are building an engaging and informative agenda right now. We’ll release the agenda late September,” Silverman wrote in an email. “AFN is in the second year of our good governance advocacy plan for Alaska and the pandemic serves to heighten awareness and intensity to the need for good governance; there will be panels and presentations on that.”

COVID-19 was a topic that Kitka touched on in the news release.

“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,” she said.

The release states that previously recorded performances of the popular Quyana Alaska will be presented over two evenings as a “best of” review show.

“Our people gathering and sharing with each other is an important aspect of our convention. We will miss it,” said Sheri Buretta, AFN board member and chair of the Convention Committee in the news release. “But just as the rest of the world has had to do, we are adapting to extraordinary times and hopeful for the future.”

The public will be able to watch the proceedings statewide on television, social media platforms, and via a webcast. The convention will also be broadcast on KNBA radio.

According to Silverman, the AFN board has selcted Anchorage as the location for the 2021 convention.

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.