GUEST COMMENTARY: Why we left AFN

In mid-December, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation board of directors voted unanimously to withdraw the organization’s membership from the Alaska Federation of Natives.

For many in Alaska, this step may have come quickly and as a surprise, coming just months after AFN’s annual convention which was held in Fairbanks. But in reality, the tensions between AFN and ASRC had been building for quite some time – for years, in fact – and we could no longer simply disregard them.

At its inception in 1966, AFN was designed as a consensus organization. At that time, when divisive issues polarized the convention and its members, the issues were historically set aside and time was allowed for more discussion.

In more recent times, convention-goers walked away from this practice, proposing and even passing divisive resolutions and endorsements despite the negative effects on some convention delegates.

These examples of committee decisions, resolutions and political endorsements all divisively cut against the grain of ASRC’s mission to responsibly provide benefits to our shareholders while enhancing our Iñupiaq culture and traditions. ASRC recently re-affirmed its mandate that it benefits its shareholders best and most directly by issuing dividends.

To that end, ASRC has embarked on a remarkable trajectory of growth in recent years: investing hundreds of millions of dollars in its existing companies, achieving significant diversification by acquisition, and extending its geographic footprint to new areas within Alaska and beyond.

Endless and non-productive divisiveness such as are witnessed at the AFN Convention not only are outside of the original intent of AFN, they are also distracting from the mission of ASRC. Debate is good, but unproductive divisiveness was preventing us from preparing the next generation of ASRC leaders to overcome challenges while standing on their own two feet.

Our founders have worked too long and too hard for the current generation to lose ground.

Rights to resources, both renewable and non-renewable, are important. Another example can be found in our experience with whaling. For 40 years, our people in the Arctic have been forced to endure unfunded mandates and unreasonable control from the International Whaling Commission.

Today, the Trump administration and our Congressional delegation are listening to us, helping us in the fight to not only restore but also strengthen our whaling rights both at home and abroad. These efforts have helped those across our region, and state, immensely both in the short as well as the long term. Threats to our resources threaten everybody, especially Alaska Natives.

With limited value, and even some long-lasting harm to ASRC experienced at the latest convention, we opted to affirm that which we have long contemplated, deciding our time and resources would be better spent somewhere else.

We’ve been very busy at home successfully developing a nonprofit regional organization called Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, or VOICE, where all in-region views are welcomed. Through this venue we can better focus on in-region issues and solutions. VOICE, comprised of Native Village councils, city organizations, regional profit and nonprofit organizations, village corporations and others such as the North Slope Borough, Iḷisaġvik College, Arctic Slope Native Association and the North Slope Borough School District provide a critically important platform for the discussion of topics important to our region.

Though we have withdrawn our membership, we will continue to work with AFN on issues that matter to ASRC and Alaska Natives everywhere. As ASRC shares its challenges with other Alaska Native corporations, I’m hopeful that someday we will once again be aligned and have a real discussion about moving forward together as one Alaska Native community.

Getting back to the AFN rules of laying aside issues which we cannot agree on and steadfastly working on issues we can agree on would be a good start.

Rex A. Rock Sr. is the president and chief executive officer of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and oversees all aspects of ASRC’s business operations. Rock served in many capacities for his hometown of Point Hope, including as whaling captain and head coach for the Tikigaq High School boys’ varsity basketball team, a position he held for more than 20 years.

Crawford Patkotak (Ahkivgak) currently serves as the chairman of the board for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation as well as the executive vice president of stakeholder engagement. He has been the whaling captain for the Patkotak Crew since 2008 and currently serves as vice chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

Updated: 
12/24/2019 - 1:24pm