Locals honored to address AFN on opening day of convention

Sunday, November 5, 2017 - 11:28
  • Photo/David Bedard/U.S. Air Force Alaska Army National Guard Col. Wayne Don, 107th Civil Support Team commander and one of the Alaska Federation of Natives keynote speakers this year, holds a photo of his uncle, Sam Herman, who served with the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II. Herman is pictured during his subsequent service with the Alaska Army National Guard. A statuette of an ATG scout keeps vigil on Col. Don’s desk.

Although the 2017 Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Convention is being held in Anchorage, the communities just north of town will be well represented Thursday when the annual gathering of Alaska Natives begins at the Dena’ina Center.

When the opening session begins Thursday morning, representatives from the Native Village of Eklutna and Eklutna Inc., will welcome between 4,000 and 5,000 delegates on behalf of the Dena’ina people.

Native Village of Eklutna president and chairman Lee Stephan said he was having a hard time containing his excitement at the honor.

“Well, you got a guy who came from a small village with a general education diploma, and I get to open the biggest convention in the state of Alaska for the Native communities? Man, I don’t know what else to tell you,” Stephan said Monday.

Also taking the stage Thursday morning will be Alaska National Guard Col. Wayne Don of Eagle River, who will join Tanana Chiefs Conference director of public safety Sgt. Jody Potts in giving the keynote address.

This year’s convention theme is “Strength in Unity: Leadership-Partnerships-Social Justice” and Col. Don said his remarks will touch on those themes.

“My speech is on the influences in my life, particularly my parents and grandparents and the value system I was raised in,” Don said Monday.

He said he plans to give several examples of leadership and unity in the Native community, and will highlight the accomplishments of Natives who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard, a group of Alaska Native volunteers who served as reserve troops and scouts for the U.S. Army during World War II.

“It will be mainly stories about the value of service and responsibility and some historical examples of leadership and unity in the Native community,” he said.

Originally from Mekoryuk, Col. Don graduated from UAF and became an officer in the U.S. Army, where he was deployed to Bosnia in the mid 1990s. He joined the Alaska National Guard in 2005 and was promoted to colonel earlier this year. He’s a past recipient of the Alaska Journal of Commerce’s “Top 40 under 40” award and serves on both the Calista Corporation board of directors and as chair of the Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska Corporation.

Although he boasts an impressive resume, Col. Don said the keynote speech will definitely be a career highlight.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be able to open the convention and honor our people,” he said. “I’m humbled.”

Thursday’s opening ceremonies will be followed by three days of meetings, informational panels, speeches, cultural performances and fellowship among attendees, who will arrive in Anchorage from every corner of the state. According to AFN, the convention is “the largest representative annual gathering in the United States of any Native peoples.”

Among this year’s speakers will be Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, Rep. Don Young, as well as other governmental and tribal leaders. The convention will host panels on such things as military leadership and climate change, tackle several resolutions and hold board elections. For a complete schedule of events, visit the AFN online at www.nativefederation.org.

Although the convention is serious business, Eklutna’s Lee Stephan said the thing he’s looking forward to most is the fellowship provided by an event that’s as much a family reunion as it is a convention.

“Every day you get to see four to five thousand people, and you know almost every one of them by name or by sight,” he said.

Contact Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

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