By Rhonda McBride
The second day of the 2012 Alaska Federation of Natives convention was highlighted by a speech from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who addressed delegates in Anchorage for her 10th time as a senator Friday.
Murkowski took the stage at the Dena'ina Center wearing a red kuspuk with blue trim. Her speech frequently touched on AFN's theme this year, "Success Beyond Barriers," as she said Alaska Natives had overcome barriers by getting involved in the political process -- including her 2010 re-election as a write-in candidate after being defeated in the Republican primary by Joe Miller.
"Native votes count," Murkowski told the audience. "Believe it -- because you made it happen."
Murkowski also told delegates AFN's role is as important today as when it was first formed, mentioning Minto leader Richard Frank's political activism and crusade for subsistence.
"The lesson is that there is strength in unity," she said.
Murkowski credited Alaska tribal leaders for achieving federal tribal recognition, saying she wants to make sure Alaska receives parity with Lower 48 tribes at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. She also said she would push to strengthen the tribal consultation process.
"We've got to do more to make sure tribal consultation is meaningful -- we've got to do more," Murkowski said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Her remarks touched on Alaska Native veterans, including those of the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II. She noted that some modern veterans haven't registered for services, and said she's working to help Native veterans in rural Alaska navigate through red tape at the BIA.
Murkowski said the greatest political issue facing Alaska was feeding families and keeping warm, describing subsistence and energy as the state's No. 1 priority.
She mentioned barriers to both, ranging from political battles and high fuel costs to the statewide collapse of this year's king salmon fishery, saying Alaskans need to find out if the collapse involves a few seasons or decades.
A powerful example of the issues involved came when Murkowski said she was at a town hall a few weeks ago in Aniak, where a woman with a baby handed the senator her home heating bill. She was in tears because she could only afford to buy five gallons, Murkowski said, because she needed to buy food for her baby.
Murkowski wasn't the only senator set to address AFN Friday, with Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka -- recipient of the federation's Denali Award, honoring a non-Native's contributions to Natives -- scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m.
Alaska's junior U.S. senator, Sen. Mark Begich, will be at AFN Saturday. He is slated to host a small-business roundtable at 1 p.m. and address delegates at 2:15 p.m.