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The First Day of AFN

Mary Peltola (Photo by: Antonia Gonzales/KNBA)

The first day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention kicked off Thursday in Anchorage. Thousands of people from across the state are gathering together for three days for the first in-person AFN convention since 2019.

Virtual events were held over the last three years due to COVID-19. An issue of focus this year is the Native vote, especially as top offices for state and national seats are being voted on in the November general election. Candidates are making their appearances at AFN.

U-S Representative for Alaska, Mary Peltola, received two standing ovations as she took the stage to address delegates Thursday afternoon. Peltola made history in September becoming the first Alaska Native person…Yup’ik…to ever serve in Congress.

The Democrat talked about unity, and working together, and expressed her gratitude to the late-Republican Congressman Don Young, whose seat she won in a special election.

In an exclusive interview with KNBA, Peltola discussed serving not only Alaska Native people, but all people in Alaska.

“It’s a serious job and I don’t see this as a stepping stone to anything else. I don’t see this as a springboard to anything else, I really just literally take this job for face value. I want to work hard for Alaskans.”

Her views on unity, regardless of party, are echoed by AFN attendees.

Ann Kaindec, Tlingit and Native Hawaiian, who works for a tribal non-profit, reacted to Peltola’s speech.

“She is such a strong and eloquent and her message about unity and tying it into AFN, but also to the state of Alaska and our need to really come together and support each other not just as Alaska Natives, but as Alaskans is a message I just absolutely love.”

Kaindec’s sentiment could be felt during and after Peltola’s speech. The convention floor rose to their feet and several groups of people sang honor songs to Peltola.

“They’re literally singing her praises after she finishes speaking. I think it’s so great to see the impact she has on the community and the way she can just connect with people in the audience and then the way that she is so appreciative of this attention that she receives and how she just takes it all and you know that it means something to her.”

Peltola is running in the general election to keep the seat.4—-What could energy look like in the future of Alaska? Something reliable, safe, and portable? This future could be near, with micro nuclear reactors.

A micronuclear reactor is a small-scale reactor with five megawatts.

Marianne Keys has over twenty years of experience in nuclear energy. She says that nuclear energy could be a good source of heat and energy for smaller, rural communities.

Keys said "It has eight or more years for a community about three thousand, of course, that can be extended if there is a lower requirement for electricity. It’s highly reliable, and I think the big thing is that it is low waste management on sight."

To help visualize, the size of the particles is so small that you can put the micro nuclear reactor on a truck. Vladamir Novak is serving as the Chief Commercial Officer for Ultra Safe Nuclear.

He said, "To give that in perspective it is about two hundred times smaller than the traditional nuclear power plants that have been built around the US."

Novak says that they started on this mission for a safer nuclear reactor eleven years ago, after Fukushima, so that tragedy could never be repeated. Novak said,"In traditional reactors, there are many systems in place that keep the reactor safe. And if any of those systems for any reason does not work, then we have an issue.

For the Micro reactors… all the safety is built into the fuel itself. We don’t need additional safety systems to keep the reactor safe. They are really self-contained, and safe reactors to operate."

In the reactor, small uranium particles are used to create heat. They are about the size of poppy seeds, have three layers that cannot be penetrated, and do not have a risk of leaking out.

The panelists also say that the main concern over nuclear energy is about tribal sovereignty, and stated that tribal sovereignty of what is best for their land is what is of utmost importance and that the stewards of the land should have the final say.

A group of Indigenous women was recognized for their military service during opening ceremonies at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.

Antonia Gonzales is a member of the Navajo Nation and grew up in Arizona and New Mexico. She is the Anchor and Producer of the award winning nationally syndicated radio program National Native News, which airs on tribal and public radio stations across the United States and Canada; covering social, economic and cultural issues, which impact Indigenous people worldwide. Antonia has worked for Koahnic Broadcast Corporation for nearly a decade. She started as an Associate Producer for KBC's nationally syndicated talk show Native America Calling. Before joining the Koahnic family, she was a one-woman-band television reporter for a CBS affiliate in Southeastern New Mexico where she covered two counties and followed stories such as large drug busts, cave rescue trainings and the famous annual bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.
Hannah Bissett is a Dena'ina woman who is currently enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Hannah is pursuing an International Studies degree and is president of two student organizations on campus.