Community Perspective

Hosting Elders & Youth, AFN meetings is a communitywide labor of love

This past October, Fairbanks was honored to host “Convention Week,” six days that encompass the First Alaskans Institute’s Elders & Youth Conference and the Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention.

The AFN convention is the largest meeting held in Alaska, with 4,500 to 5,000 participants. Throughout the conference, critical issues are discussed and vetted by its membership, which includes 191 federally recognized tribes, 171 village corporations, 12 regional corporations and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums. The 1,300 attendees from rural and urban areas who convene for First Alaskans work to develop leadership in youths with the guidance of elders. Both gatherings are also an extraordinary celebration of the art, crafts, song and dance of indigenous peoples across the state and beyond our borders. Throughout the week, we have witnessed the innumerable heartfelt reunions among families, friends and colleagues as they gather for this annual event.

After a hiatus of 17 years, AFN chose to come back to Fairbanks in 2005. This fall was the sixth time since then — 2005, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 — that these meetings have been held in our town. Of special note, the 2016 AFN convention commemorated the 50th anniversary of AFN, whose first gathering in 1966 was also here in Fairbanks. We are grateful to the AFN board of directors for consistently choosing Fairbanks as a host community.

With the return of AFN 14 years ago, one truth has been steadfast: hosting Elders & Youth and AFN meetings is a communitywide labor of love.

Over the years, the locally based Native Leadership and Community Committee reforms to prepare for and accommodate guests. Under the guidance of the committee, Explore Fairbanks coordinates 10 planning subcommittees that work together to exemplify the best in Golden Heart hospitality. These individuals reach out to hundreds of others to pitch in and help.

Below is just a sampling of the numbers behind the impressive feats of local volunteerism during the 2019 convention week:

• An estimated 75 people contributed more than 300 hours on subcommittees prior to convention week.

• 300 volunteers worked 4,897 hours during the week, performing tasks such as stuffing bags for the delegates, being airport greeters, holding doors open and assisting in the set up of the Carlson Center and Big Dipper.

• Area Alaska Native organizations collaborated to offer a Welcome Potlatch on Wednesday evening, a Herculean task replete with singing, dancing, and traditional foods and gift-giving for 1,800 guests.

• 100 hours of safety patrol teams were covered by the Fairbanks Police Department detectives partnering with advocates. There were no reported incidents of victimization during any of the six convention weeks that have been hosted in Fairbanks since 2005.

• In preparation for the arrival of guests from across the state and beyond, 15 Cross-Cultural Communication classes were given to a total of 256 individuals.

The volunteering data of convention week is the testament to the collaborative Golden Heart spirit of our community.

The numbers also reflect our collective sense of purpose and responsibility in hosting this notable gathering and the sheer hard work of physically aiding in the execution of its logistical details. In humility of the enormity of your efforts, we salute and thank each and every one of you.

Deb Hickok has been a professional in the field of destination marketing and management for 37 years and has served as president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks for more than 20 of those years. Helen Renfrew is a 30-year veteran of the travel industry, including employment at Explore Fairbanks for a total of 13 years.

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