The mission of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), founded in October 1966, is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic, and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community. It was founded in Anchorage, Alaska, as a means to unite Alaska Native peoples in response to several threats of land expropriation in the absence of any native land claims settlement. Several pressures galvanized Alaska Natives to unite and protect their land, namely, looming state of Alaska land selections stemming from the Alaska Statehood Act of 1959; the Bureau of Indian Affairs initiatives to solve the conflicting federal, state, and native land use problems in Alaska; and Project Chariot, an Atomic Energy Commission plan to use nuclear explosions to create a harbor south of the Inupiat village of Point Hope, Alaska. Howard Rock, a native of Point Hope and a direct descendant of a bow-head whale hunting family, emerged as one of the leaders of the opposition to Project Chariot; his work led him to founding and editing of the Alaska weekly paper Tundra Times. Rock's work and the Tundra Times contributed to the essential growth of native unity and helped achieve the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.
In 1966, Rock publicized a native meeting set to discuss the Bureau of Indian Affairs' plans. Eight native associations, each formed to protect rights to their regional lands, met to form the AFN. After the initial meeting, representatives organized and informed people in native villages who were not represented in the first meetings. United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall froze public domain lands in Alaska until native claims and issues could be addressed. By 1967, AFN had filed native title claims to 370 million acres of land (the state of Alaska comprises 375 million acres.)
In 1968, the discovery of extensive oil reserves under the Arctic slope of Alaska, followed by the US oil shortage of the early 1970s, sped the passage of ANCSA through the US Congress.
Since its inception, AFN has grown to hold a broad mandate as the major, united voice of Alaska Natives. The organization's fundamental principle holds that Alaska Natives began as members of sovereign nations and continue to enjoy a unique relationship with the US government. Although the ANCSA recognizes 13 native regions that work independently on many matters, AFN continues to lead initiatives on matters of interest to all natives within Alaska. It works closely with the Alaska Intertribal Council, the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, regional and village corporations, and native nonprofit foundations.
AFN's major goals are: to advocate for Alaska Native people, their governments and organizations with respect to federal, state, and local laws; to foster and encourage preservation of Alaska Native cultures; to promote an understanding of the economic needs of Alaska Natives and encourage development consistent with those needs; to protect, retain, and enhance all lands owned by Alaska Natives and their organizations; and to support programs that instill pride and confidence in individual Alaska Natives.
To these ends, AFN meets annually in Anchorage for the largest gathering of native people statewide each year for a week of business and cultural festivities. AFN holds an Elders and Youth Conference for three days prior to its convention.
See also Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA); Bureau of Indian Affairs; Project Chariot
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