Leaders of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska are the latest Alaska Native regional corporation to say they are quitting the Alaska Federation of Natives, but that they will continue to collaborate with AFN where needed.
In a separate announcement also on Monday, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) said their conference representing tribes in Alaska’s Interior will be withdrawing from the statewide Alaska Native entity.
Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Eesh Peterson confirmed that the Central Council will not be renewing its AFN membership, noting that they have a governmental affairs team that supports their work on important legislation, federal and state tribal issues, budget priorities, and funding opportunities.
TCC tribal leaders made it clear that their priority is the protection of salmon and ways of life.
TCC said in a prepared statement that they had polled all tribal delegates and results showed the majority felt that TCC should not renew its membership in AFN, so on April 28 TCC submitted its formal letter of withdrawal to AFN. TCC said that its affiliated tribes can still decide on their own whether they want to remain an AFN member.
The Aleut Corp., which represents Alaska Natives from the Aleutian Islands, opted following last year’s AFN convention, not to renew its membership.
Doyon Limited and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (ASRC) both withdrew from AFN in 2019. Doyon cited concerns over AFN leadership, while ASRC withdrew mainly over political differences. AFN had thrown its support in the U.S. Senate race in 2014 to incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, while ASRC endorsed Begich’s Republican opponent.
The current AFN website states that the federation represents 209 federally recognized tribes, 185 village corporations, and 10 regional corporations. AFN was unavailable for comment by the deadline for this edition of The Cordova Times.
Many of the regional corporations, established under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, have been struggling for years over development issues, including mining, that stand to adversely impact traditional cultural and subsistence lifestyles of many of their shareholders.
Tlingit & Haida’s Peterson said that their council is “working every day toward strengthening our sovereignty and preserving our way of life for generations to come. It has always been in the best interest of the Tribe to directly promote, advance and advocate for our people and communities, and we have positioned the Tribe and strategically built our capacity to do just that.”
In a statement released on Monday, the Central Council noted that over the past nine years Peterson and the council’s executive committee have been working to strengthen the tribe’s sovereignty through economic development initiative and building infrastructure to advance their priorities.
Tlingit & Haida, the largest federally recognized tribe in Alaska, with over 35,000 tribal citizens, has been a long-standing member of AFN, formed in 1966 to promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the statewide Alaska Native community.
First Vice President Jacqueline Pata said the Central Council will remain engaged in Alaska Native policy conversations nationally, across the state and within their region, to advance the goals and interests of Tlingit & Haida, its tribal citizens and communities.
“From protecting our lands, waters, and way of life, to advocating on behalf of our communities and for the need for wellness, healing, protection and support for our tribal citizens and families, we’ve carved our own path and know the solutions that are needed,” said Second Vice President Rob Sanderson Jr.