ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Federation of Natives has postponed its annual convention because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, officials said in a statement.
The convention has traditionally been the largest gathering of Alaska Natives in the state. It had been scheduled for Oct. 21-23 but is now delayed until mid-December in Anchorage, the organization said in a statement Tuesday.
The federation’s board of directors cited a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide and the increasing pressure placed on Alaska’s limited healthcare system.
Organizers said they will continue planning for an in-person convention at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage with a virtual option. However, the statement said the board will make a decision by mid-October on whether to maintain the in-person part.
“The high-risk factors of holding a 5,000-person indoor meeting, with delegates coming in from across Alaska, make an in-person October gathering out of the question,” Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka said in the statement.
She said the economic impact of the pandemic on businesses and individuals continues to be felt. And when events like the federation’s annual convention are turned virtual, there are negative economic impacts for everyone, including the host city.
“We are working to avoid that if we can, though our top priority remains the health and safety of our delegates and other participants,” Kitka said.
Other organizers encouraged Alaskans to get vaccinated and wear masks so the convention can be held.
One notable celebration this year will be the observation of the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The act was the largest land settlement in the nation’s history when President Richard Nixon signed it into law Dec. 18, 1971 and settled Indigenous land claims in Alaska.
“Postponing until December provides us an opportunity to gather in person on the 50th anniversary of ANCSA, but it all hinges on everyone’s willingness and ability to get vaccinated,” said Sealaska chairman and Alaska Federation of Natives co-chair Joe Nelson.
“We want our convention plans for December to be an encouragement to Alaskans to double our efforts, get vaccinated, and mask up,” said Sheri Buretta, chair of Chugach Alaska Corporation and the convention committee chair.