AFN 2017: Strength in Unity

Annual gathering draws 4,000-5,000 people

Strength in Unity: Leadership-Partnerships-Social Justice is the theme of the 2017 Alaska Federation of Natives meeting, with keynote addresses by Lt. Col. Wayne Don of the Alaska Army National Guard, and Sgt. Jody Potts, public safety director for Tanana Chiefs Conference.

The convention, to be held Oct. 19-21 in Anchorage, annually attracts 4,000-5,000 attendees, and is broadcast live statewide and webcast to 60 countries worldwide, AFN officials said.

This year’s theme, according to AFN, “underlines the importance of a statewide unified approach to the many shared challenges and opportunities the Native community is facing this year.”

Don, who grew up on Nunivak Island, attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, then enlisted in the U.S. Army. He is currently the commander of the Alaska Army National Guard’s 38th Troop Command.

Potts, also a village public safety officer, is from Eagle and earned bachelor’s degree in applied indigenous studies with emphasis in environmental management from Northern Arizona University.

Potts also addressed AFN at last year’s conference. Her commentary is online at


The complete schedule for AFN as of Oct. 7, is online at

Also slated to address the convention on Oct. 19 in Anchorage in person are Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is to address the convention via video teleconference on the morning the convention opens, but the time has not yet been announced.

Also scheduled to speak at the convention is Don Benton, director of the Selective Service, who is to be introduced by the Alaska Native Veterans Association. According to Snopes, Benton is the first person to lead the agency who never served in the military. His appointment by President Trump did not required confirmation from the U.S. Senate. The U.S. Selective Service System has not overseen a draft since 1973. Its current job is to register men ages 18 to 25 for a potential draft.

The Seattle Times noted in an article on April 11 that Benton, is a former Republican state senator from Vancouver, Wash., and former state Republican Party chairman who was voted out of that job after serving for eight months.

Speakers scheduled to speak on Oct. 20 include Alaska Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingman, and Bush Caucus chairman Neal Foster, D-Nome; U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Hallie Bissett, executive director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, Annie Donovan, director of the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund; Keith Harper, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Annual awards given at the convention include Culture Bearer, Della Keats Healing Hands, Elder of the Year, Lu Young Youth Leadership, Parents of the Year, Public Service, and the Walter Sobolff “Warriors of Light” award.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Don Young, both R-Alaska, are among the speakers on the final day of the convention before adjournment for the AFN banquet.