The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention is this week and AFN President Julie Kitka says many of the top issues for the statewide organization pertain to public safety and improving the state’s economy.
The focus on public safety has always remained a top issue, Kitka said, but after U.S Attorney General William Barr’s visit to Alaska this spring and the subsequent federal declaration of emergency regarding rural public safety, the AFN has placed special focus on the matter.
“Public safety is a very big area. There’s always been that overarching issue,” Kitka said. “What we’re looking to do is have a functioning, well-run rural public safety system that’s got control, that’s adequately resourced, that’s not relying on a grant that’s only good for one year and that’s effective.”
Barr visited a number of remote villages earlier this year and declared a federal state of emergency in June, pledging federal support and a $6 million grant to address the lack of adequate public safety officers across rural Alaska.
The AFN president noted that panel discussions with public safety officials will be held throughout the three-day conference.
“We’ll be discussing what changes in law might need to happen and how to resource that,” Kitka said.
Kitka noted violence against women will be included in many, if not most, of the public safety discussions.
Other discussions will include a model compact on child welfare as well as emergency preparedness and climate change.
“There are big challenges and not easy answers,” Kitka said. “This erosion issue affects everybody. There’s a core theme we’re talking about with the military and with industry officials because it affects their infrastructure. It’s the same with oil companies.”
Erosion has sparked additional attention because communities such as Newtok, a village on the southwest coast of Alaska, is in the process of having to relocate due to erosion as sea ice melts, leaving shorelines unprotected.
“This all ties together on safety for our people and our communities,” Kitka said.
Kitka said the organization also is focusing on the state economy and how AFN can help bolster it.
“We want to help build the economy of the state by strengthening our organizations and corporations but also building an economy in the state that is sustainable and can grow,” Kitka said.
This economic goal includes taking consideration of all state residents it affects, Kitka said.
“We want a future for all Alaskans,” she said. “We want people to want to live here and have opportunities for themselves and their children.”
What’s needed, Kitka said, is investment from the government in infrastructure.
“That’s one area the private sector is not able to tackle on its own and is essential for building economies both in urban and rural areas, whether that means investment in telecommunication or roads and bridges,” Kitka said. “This goes back to climate change and public safety as well when we’re talking about building on permafrost and a changing landscape. Really it’s all connected.”
The annual convention will be held Oct. 17-19 in Fairbanks.
More information can be found at www.nativefederation.org/convention/.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.