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Alaska Federation of Natives Convention will go virtual as coronavirus surges

The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention will be held online in October as organizers aim to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The annual convention serves as a way for the Alaska Native community to discuss public policy and government. The multiday event draws thousands of Alaskans to Anchorage or Fairbanks. It has an economic value of more than $3.6 million, according to Kathy Dunn, a spokeswoman for Visit Anchorage.

The 2020 convention had been scheduled for the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage during October.

The convention will instead happen online Oct. 15 and 16, according to a statement from AFN.

“It was a really tough decision, but the health and safety of our delegates, participants and attendees comes first,” said Julie Kitka, AFN president. “The high risk factors of holding a large, indoor meeting, with lots of elders and delegates coming in from across Alaska, far outweigh the benefits of gathering in person.”

The virtual convention will feature live and prerecorded speeches and interactive panels, including a keynote address by Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. The conference will be available online and on social media, television and KNBA radio.

This year’s conference theme, “Good Government, Alaskans Decide,” is a nod to the U.S. census and upcoming elections, AFN said.

The decision to switch to a virtual conference comes after weeks of record-setting daily COVID-19 case counts statewide. On Monday, Anchorage entered a “four-week reset” period that imposed further restrictions on restaurants and entertainment venues with the intent of slowing the spread of the virus.

The organization announced last month that the associated Elders and Youth Conference would also be held virtually this year. That conference comes before the larger AFN conference.

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