27 October 2006

The Purpose of AFN?

KNOM broadcasts live coverage of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention all day long and as I've been listening I've been questioning the importance of events like these, where people come together to talk about the problems we all know exist, urge each other to do better, and then return home to do... exactly what? Aside from being a show of Alaska native strength, a good networking opportunity, and a chance to go see the doctor and do your shopping, what comes from AFN?

One benefit I see that is perhaps often overlooked is the way in which it brings rural issues to the fore of the media spotlight for a few days. Every reporter wants to make his job as easy as possible for himself so when a whole bunch of Alaska natives show up and start talking about the problems they face on a daily basis, it's really easy for the ADN, KTUU, and other major news organizations to report on these issues.

Case in point: the ADN's article on life as a VPSO. Sure, Alex deMarban could have traveled to the villages and done a story like this but that's a lot harder. Instead, the story lands in his lap and Alaskans who read the ADN are better off for it.

Similarly, I hope Mike Dunham's article on Mary Ann Sundown's dancing gives urban Alaskans some small sense of what dancing means in rural villages around this state. Dancing is a central social event in villages I've visited, whether as informal evening entertainment or days-long dance festivals.

Perhaps, if the major media organizations in this state made their coverage of rural Alaskan life a bit more consistent, urban Alaskans would stop seeing rural Alaskans as those people who show up to shop and go to the doctor every once in a while and instead as important stakeholders in this state who have a unique set of challenges and opportunities.

But I wouldn't count on it.

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