FAIRBANKS—Voter turnout in Fairbanks plummeted to the lowest point in a decade this fall.
In other areas of the state, the outlook was just as bleak, but a coalition of several Alaska Native groups is working to reverse that trend. They plan to bring out the vote through music.
Musicians will take to the stage in Fairbanks on Wednesday for the Hunt-Fish-Share Rock the Native Vote Concert. The concert, which will take place in Lathrop High School’s Hering Auditorium beginning at 8 p.m., was organized to coincide with the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, being held in Fairbanks.
“I think using the international language of music and film to share positive messages of hope and inspiration does in fact motivate and inspire people to positive action,” said Robby Romero, the headliner and one of several artists who will be performing.
Romero formerly signed with the major recording label Island Records but left to become an independent artist when the label merged with Polygram Records in 1989. When the labels merged, Romero said, he had the choice to stay the course toward pop stardom or leave to continue pursuing his love of Native music. He left the label and has spent the last two decades creating music and videos that celebrate Native culture, a passion that qualifies him substantially to inspire the power of voting in Native youth.
“I stand in solidarity with my Native brothers and sister,” Romero said.
One of those sisters is Princess Lucaj, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. The steering committee has had a vital role in organizing the concert and providing volunteer support.
Lucaj said she was discouraged by voter turnout across Alaska this fall but hopeful that young adults can help raise the numbers next year.
“You have to use your voice,” Lucaj said. “If you don’t use your voice, you jeopardize what you have.”
While the concert’s main purpose is to encourage voter turnout among Native youths, the first part of its name conveys a secondary mission: Hunt-Fish-Share seeks to bring out more voters who understand the needs of Native subsistence hunters throughout Alaska. Alaska Natives have frequently split with the state and federal government on Native subsistence rights and enforcement.
“We are asking for the right as sovereign entities ... to manage the resources outside our front doorstep,” said Jessica Black, one of the event’s organizers.
Lucaj said the issue extends beyond the issue of subsistence to one of basic rights.
“Right now, unfortunately, I can’t say that there is mutual respect — some pockets of respect — but overall equal rights in this state for Alaska Native people, I don’t think we’re there yet,” Lucaj said. “But we can get there. I’m optimistic that we can get there.”
Event organizers, volunteers and musical artists involved in the concert agreed, though, that increasing Native voter turnout is necessary to addressing the concerns of the Native community.
“You look at the history of voting,” Lucaj said. “These are rights that people fought very hard for. Kind of in paying respect to that, it’s disrespectful not to vote, I think.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.