Alaska Federation of Natives Addresses Salmon Bycatch Worries
The Alaska Native Heritage Dancers opened the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage on October 20.
The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage October 20-22 marked the return of an in-person gathering for the first time since 2019. From all over the state, Alaska Natives came together at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, and the mood was upbeat and warm as friends and family greeted and hugged each other.
Ties That Bind
The 2022 convention is also the first in almost fifty years without even the possibility of an appearance by Don Young. The late Congressman for All Alaska died in March, but his absence loomed over the AFN convention almost as if he were there in person. Young and the late former US senator Ted Stevens were both remembered and honored, and members of their family were present.
Young’s daughters Dawn Vallely and Joni Nelson presented one of their father’s bolo ties to his successor, US Representative Mary Sattler Peltola, who was elected to Alaska’s at-large seat in August. In accepting it, Peltola said that cooperation is the way forward.
“Sharing is inherent to success and survival,” she said, and although from a different political party, Peltola promised to follow Young’s lead on many issues.
AFN delegates also heard from US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (making a virtual appearance) and from Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, US Senator Dan Sullivan, US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai’i, who chairs the Committee on Indian Affairs, and US Senator Lisa Murkowski.
AFN co-chair Joe Nelson remarked that voter turnout in the Native community is going to make all the difference on November 8th.
“The only way forward in this time of heightened partisanship is to find connections and build on our shared values,” said AFN co-chair Ana Hoffman.
Four candidates for Alaska’s lone seat in the US House of Representatives met on the stage at the AFN convention in Anchorage.
On the last day of the convention, AFN delegates voted on wide-ranging resolutions, but it was the first two that brought lengthy debate. Both were aimed at bycatch of salmon by commercial fisheries, limiting the return for subsistence users.
“I really have to take a step back here and talk about how sad I am that we have to fight so hard here to be heard to try to protect our salmon,” said Brian Ridley, chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference. The Interior region tribal organization brought both resolutions to the floor.
“I know this is a controversial issue,” Ridley said. “There’s a lot of people that didn’t want to have this discussion here, but if we don’t have it here and we don’t get the support of AFN, the problem is we’re gonna be out of the fish on the Yukon and Kuskokwim, and we’re gonna be talking endangered species.”
The first resolution requested the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to support measures to decrease the intercept of Chinook and chum salmon at sea in Area M along the Alaska Peninsula.
Native communities that use Area M for commercial and subsistence fishing asked for the vote to be postponed and moved to executive session, but they were voted down and it passed.
The second resolution requested that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) address salmon bycatch and mortality issues in the Bering Sea/Aleutians that affect coastal Western and Interior Alaska salmon stocks. That too passed.
One of Don Young’s final acts in office was to push for an Alaska Native representative on the NPFMC, and he partially succeeded at the council’s meeting in Anchorage the week before the AFN convention. Nominations were opened through February 3 from Alaska Native tribes and organizations for the designated seat on NPFMC’s advisory panel, but not the council itself.