Two very exciting things happen in Alaska every October: the annual Permanent Fund dividend is released and the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Annual Convention, the country’s largest representative gathering of Native peoples.
Starting today, Anchorage will host the AFN convention, showcasing the rich cultures of Alaska’s first people: their art, music, dance and traditions. For three full days, the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center transforms into a colorful scene buzzing with people dressed in traditional garb and speaking a variety of ancient languages and dialects. It is a place where elders and youth get together to converse about their pasts and future, where policy decisions are made for next generations and where family reunions occur, a true cultural gathering place.
The event takes place around the same time every year, alternating locations between Anchorage and Fairbanks, and draws close to 5,000 people from in and outside Alaska. It’s hard to miss when the convention is going on as attendees take advantage of their stay in the city and populate retail and dining establishments across town, stocking up on groceries, clothes and other needs.
Every evening, Native dance and music groups from all regions of the state perform traditional songs and dances and will often invite brave souls in the audience to join them on stage and try out some of the moves. The Alaska Native Customary Art Show fills one of the largest halls at the Dena’ina Center throughout the length of the convention and is quite literally a one-stop shop for purchasing unique Alaska Native and American Indian art and jewelry created by artists from across the state. You can find anything from beautiful walrus ivory carvings and colorful beaded baskets to masks, infant-sized fur booties and vibrant paintings of scenes from traditional Native subsistence activities. Additionally, the keynote speech (this year themed “Rise as One”), discussion panels and special reports present a great opportunity to hear firsthand about the latest trends, shifts, challenges and successes in Alaska’s Native community.
The Dena’ina Center is located just a couple of blocks south of the Anchorage Westmark Hotel in downtown Anchorage. While some of the internal policy making sessions are open only to convention delegates, most of the events, including the keynote speech, expert panels and cultural performances, are free for all. We recommend checking it out if you have a free afternoon or even an entire day — a visit to AFN’s convention is a cultural experience like no other.
For more information about the Alaska Federation of Natives, including a full agenda for 2014 Annual Convention, visit http://www.nativefederation.org.