Alaska Federation of Natives Convention Cancels Senate Debate

BREAKING: The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention has cancelled the senate forum scheduled for this weekend during the annual convention in Fairbanks.

The cancellation comes after AFN sent invitations, and got commitments from at least one campaign. AFN states that the cancellation comes because neither Lisa Murkowski nor Joe Miller has committed to attend the event. It is unclear if Mr. Miller will be at the convention. Both Lisa Murkowski and Scott McAdams will be present at the convention.

By their actions the AFN are in effect saying that Natives do not need to hear from, and should not hear from candidate(s) who committed to attend the event, despite the fact that this is potentially the closest senate race in the history of the state.

The Alaska Federation of Natives and many Native Corporations have endorsed Lisa Murkowski, yet in the senate race of 2008, Mark Begich won the overwhelming majority of Native votes, depite leadership endorsement of Ted Stevens. Alaska Natives are keenly aware that their leadership does not always recommend what is best for the people – it usually recommends what is best for those in the leadership.

Despite the AFN’s political leanings, and that those leanings may differ from that of the Native people, the most concerning aspect of this news is the fact that they have denied the opportunity to let their people hear another perspective, particularly because McAdams has been open about his support of tribal sovereignty, and demonstrated his extensive real-world understanding of Native and rural issues.

When Alaska Congressional candidate Diane Benson (who is part Alaska Native) ran against AFN endorsed candidate Don Young in 2006, the leadership also attempted to quash any speech from Benson. Eventually so much pressure was brought to bear by attendees of the conference that she was eventually given permission to speak, and she brought the house down.

Alaska Native Corporations, represented heavily by membership of the board of AFN have given hundreds of thousands of corporate dollars in donations to Lisa Murkowski. Criticism has been launched at corporations whose shareholders often live in substandard conditions, lacking infrastructure, affordable energy, and in some cases basic plumbing, for spending a huge amount of money on a political candidate at the expense of basic needs for its shareholders.

It is unclear what will happen at this point. It is possible, if the Alaska Native people speak up and demand the opportunity to hear from ALL the candidates who want to participate, that this still may happen. As it stands, 36 board members are dictating whether they have the right to hear the candidates who will be pushing legislation that affects their lives.

Why have neither Republican candidate confirmed their participation in the most important gathering of Alaska Native people? Is it possible that Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller both understand that they will never be able to debate Native issues with Scott McAdams in a way that won’t lose themselves support with voters? Maybe. But even if both those candidates choose not to speak to Alaska Native people, does that mean that the candidate who does want to speak shouldn’t be allowed?

This is a developing story that will be updated.

UPDATE: The following press release was issued from the Scott McAdams campaign

McAdams to Address Alaska Natives during “Delegate Dialog”
Calls Debate Cancellation a Missed Opportunity

Though disappointed at the cancellation of the Alaska Federation of Natives Senate Candidate Debate, U.S. Senate candidate Scott McAdams expressed his determination to work even harder to reach out to attendees of this year’s event in Fairbanks.

“I am grateful that AFN has given me an opportunity for a dialogue with attendees,” said McAdams of the Delegation Dialogue event which AFN made available after the cancellation of the Senate debate. Still, McAdams laments the absence of a debate-style event.

“I am passionate about Alaska Native issues,” said McAdams while travelling in Juneau. “I felt that I displayed my depth of knowledge and respect for Native peoples and cultures at the ANPA Forum—I had hoped to use the AFN debate to contrast my philosophy with the other candidates.” The Alaska Native Professional Association Forum was held on October 7, 2010 and featured all three Senate candidates.

In addition to the Delegate Dialogue to be held on October 22, 2010 at the Carlson Center, McAdams will participate in the following events during his visit to Fairbanks:

Thursday, October 21, 2010
Alaska Native Leader Press Conference
Carlson Center, 2010 2nd Avenue Fairbanks, AK
1:30pm – 2:00pm
Friday, October 22, 2010

UAF Candidate Forum
Schalbe Auditorium, Fairbanks, AK

When AFN called the McAdams campaign to cancel the event, they were told that the reason for the cancellation was that the other two candidates had not confirmed. However, Lisa Murkowski had the even on her website calendar, and Joe Miller’s campaign has also stated that he had planned to attend.

So now, the tapdancing begins. Supposedly now, they just decided to cancel it because the senate race was getting too much attention and last year people weren’t given enough time to speak at the convention. So the governor’s debate will remain, but the senate debate will be replaced by an hour of mic time.