From Kyle Hopkins at the Dena'ina Center --
Meet 24-year-old Rebecca Wilbur, an entrepreneur with her eye on becoming the Michael’s crafts store of Quinhagak.
Artists in the cash-poor Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta need beads and bones, leather and carving tools to make projects, she said, but it can cost more than $600 to fly to Anchorage for supplies. Wilbur’s solution: Import the craft supplies or buy raw materials from hunters and trappers in the region, and sell to artists in nearby villages.
“I want to provide the supplies for kuspuk making, for putting bracelets together,” said Wilbur, whose business is called Yup’ik Originals. “The string, beads. (Supplies for) making earrings and hair pins, and everything that I guess defines who we are.”
Voters in the Alaska Marketplace competition – a contest to win seed money to start small rural businesses – awarded Wilbur the people’s choice award at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention. She’ll take home $6,000 from the competition.
If the business model works, other supply shops could sprout up around the Y-K, she said.
“There aren’t many jobs in the community and we are hoping that with our business, we can help our artists flourish,” Wilbur said. “And at the same time, we want to encourage trappers to go trapping by purchasing their raw hides from them.”
Eventually, Wilbur hopes to buy art from artists across the region and sell the work at the Bethel Saturday market or at the AFN crafts fair.
“People spend so much time making their art that they don’t break even,” Wilbur said.
3 p.m. UPDATE: Worl named Citizen of the year
For the second time in three years, a Sealaska Corp. board member has been awarded AFN’s top honor.
Rosita Worl, vice chair for the Southeast Alaska regional corporation and president of the Sealaska Heritage Instiute, was named AFN’s Citizen of the Year today.
“I venture to say there’s probably nobody’s life that has not been touched by the efforts that she has put into her work helping the Native community over her lifetime,” AFN president Julie Kitka said.
Last year, Heartbeat Alaska host Jeanie Greene won the award.
This year's Denali award, which recognizes the achievements of non-Natives, went to John Katz, the outgoing director for the governor’s office in D.C.
1:10 p.m. UPDATE: Poll -- Can villages survive in the future?
Grab a seat at the AFN convention this year and someone might hand you a credit card-sized gadget that looks a little like a calculator. It allows the audience of hundreds to participate in informal, flash surveys and polls.
Today, more than 500 people were asked if they agree with this statement: "I think our rural communities can survive into the future.”
More than 70 percent said yes.
12:15 p.m. UPDATE: Business ideas: North Slope computer farm & kuspuks for everyone!
Former Bethel Rep. Mary Sattler has a question. Why is it that when tourists go to Hawaii, they all come home wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but when visitors leave Alaska, they're not wearing a traditional kuspuk?
Picture a cruise ship full of seniors wrapped in the lightweight parkas rather than jogging suits. Sattler told the crowd it's a business that needs to happen.
North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta pitched his own development idea. Somewhere in America, he said, there are "mega servers" comprised of fields of computers.
“Huge places that take acres and they take tons of energy to refrigerate and cool," Itta said. "I thought, ‘Hmm, you know, maybe we could try to bring some of these people up north, and they don’t have to spend so much money on refrigeration.”
Sattler, by the way, was recently elected to the Bethel City Council, she said. "I really want the pool to be built."
11:45 a.m. UPDATE:
I listened to much of Gov. Sean Parnell's AFN speech this morning over the radio as I sat in my car in downtown Anchorage waiting for a tow truck. (Maybe next time I could just post a blog item asking for a jump start?)
That said, I wondered about one line in the address. It came when Parnell talked about suicide in rural Alaska, where death rates soar above the rest of the state and the rest of the nation.
"Government is poorly equipped to repair the broken heart or wounded spirits of those who feel life is not worth living," Parnell told the crowd.
Did that mean government doesn't have a role in suicide prevention? In a short talk with reporters outside the convention floor, Parnell said that's not his message.
"(Government) can't heal somebody's suicidal tendencies, but we can create an avenue for that person to come into contact with another person and get the healing they need," he said.
"It's going to take a combination of approaches," Parnell said. "It's to take government funding substance-abuse counseling, it's going to take economic development across the state to create jobs for people so they can have hope, and a future."
Here's the clip. (Parnell asks me to pull my camera back shortly into the clip.)
Parnell also talked about rural law enforcement, education and domestic violence. Here's a short account from The Associated Press:
Gov. Sean Parnell is pledging not to rest as long as the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault plagues Alaska.
Parnell has made cracking down on domestic violence and sexual assault a centerpiece of his administration. He told the Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Friday that the state now has 88 village public safety officers and he plans to request funding for 15 more in his next budget.
Parnell says the "Choose Respect" campaign — aimed at getting Alaskans to talk a stronger stand against the violence — is making a difference.
The governor also addressed other issues, including education. He says he'll request $62 million for schools in Emmonak and Koliganek to honor an agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging inequities in funding for rural public schools.
Reacting to Parnell's remarks, former state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln told the crowd that she wants to see more Alaska Natives in positions of power around the state.
“I want to see not only increased VPSOs in our communities, but I want to see Native state troopers. I want to see more Native administrators in the schools," Lincoln said during a roundtable talk about strengthening ties between Alaska Natives and state government. "I want to see the Native principals. And I know that there are folks that have degrees and are having a very difficult time getting into the principalship. And why? I don’t understand that.”
Kookesh: AFN resolution pulled to avoid tribe, corporation battles
Day Two of the Alaska Federation of Natives conference began today with a speech by Gov. Sean Parnell, while North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta is on stage now, quoting "Cool Hand Luke:"
"What we have here is a failure to communicate."
More on Parnell's remarks later.
Meantime, I spoke briefly with Sen. Al Kookesh yesterday about behind-the-scenes tension between Alaska tribes and corporations. Kookesh has called for corporations to be recognized as part of the National Congress of American Indians ... a notion that concerns some tribal leaders, APRN reports.
Kookesh told President Obama’s senior policy advisor for Native American Affairs that corporations need more recognition in Alaska, public radio reported.
David Harrison, executive director for the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, disagreed.
"They have some of our lands and with as much money as those corporation management is taking home … while our people are suffering in the villages, they’re not doing their job," Harrison told public radio.
The AFN removed a board resolution supporting inclusion of corporations in the National Congress of American Indians from the agenda to avoid arguments at year’s unity-themed convention.
"We represent the same people. The people who are represented in corporations are also tribal members," said Kookesh, who is a Sealaska Corp. board member.