2019 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention continues, brings focus to education

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) At the second day of 2019's Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, there was a special focus on children and education.

A panel was held entitled: Alaska's Constitutional Responsibilities for Public Education. Panelists from left to right; Sandra Kowalski, Jim Johnsen, Chris Cooke and Sheri Buretta. (Carly Sjordal/KTVF)

A special reading by the Alaska Native Youth was held to discuss the younger generations displaying interest in politics. Additionally, a panel was held entitled: Alaska's Constitutional Responsibilities for Public Education.

The panel specifically addressed article IV of Alaska's Constitution that requires the state to establish and maintain a public school system.

The Panelists included Sandra Kowalski a member of the Board of Education, Chris Cooke from Alaska Legal Services Corporation, and President of the University of Alaska, Jim Johnsen. There was a focus on past legislation and how discriminatory practices in the past affect schools today for Alaska Natives.

"The difficult choice of either living at home with your family or going to school, was a burden that fell uniquely and almost exclusively on Alaska Native people, which was a discriminatory effect," quoted Chris Cooke.

Kowalski and Cooke explained information about the boarding school era, and feeling like the history being taught was overwhelmingly a western narrative.

"Even though we have schools in native villages, we are experiencing a narrative and we've experienced this narrative for 5 generations. My grandparents were told in order for their children to become citizens they needed to experience a Western education, not a traditional education and our grandparents kids were sent away to boarding schools. Our parents. My parents," said Sandra Kowalski during the panel.

Kowalski also explained that she felt that this wasn't an issue of constitutional matters but one of ownership and identity.

Jim Johnson discussed more about the value of children and education at the conference saying:

"The Alaska Federation of Natives is keenly interested in education, all of the big native corporations for example have education foundations, the tribal organizations all across the state focus on education. They have for many many years always valued education.”

After the discussion on article IV, members of the Alaska Native Youth performed a special reading of a short statement about budget cuts.

Saturday will mark the final day of AFN, as discussions of Land issues, native employment and a congressional address from U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan is anticipated.

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