On Wednesday morning drummers marched around Petersburg’s community gym performing the song, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. They wove through tables set up for delegates who are visiting.
The ANB-ANS Grand Camp will last for four days. Much of the morning of the first day was taken up with a delegate roll call and introductions.
Christina Sakamoto is the President of Petersburg Indian Association.
“We are the people by the fast moving water. We welcome each of you to our lands today,” Sakamoto says. “Welcome.”
Sakamoto asked delegates to look around at everyone else in the gym.
“It is indeed a very powerful moment,” Sakamoto says. “We are all brothers and sisters. We are all here for the same reason. We all share the same vision. May we keep this cause fresh in our minds, thoughts, hearts and spirits about the great work that ANB and ANS does. It is a very worthy cause. It is the voice of our people. If we do not speak out and defend, our people’s voice will perish and it will be as if our people never existed.”
ANS President of Petersburg’s camp, Brenda Louise, reminded everyone that it has been 44 years since Petersburg hosted the annual convention. She says agenda items concerning subsistence, housing, health, and land issues are still the same.
“The agenda items in 1970 are topics that we still discuss, reform, and challenge in today’s convention. We have not dropped the torch,” Louise says. “Alaska Natives are still working together the important aspects of our lives, and the lives of our elders, veterans, and children.”
ANB President, Bill Martin, says he is thrilled the convention is back in Petersburg after 44 years. He says he feels welcomed by the whole community.
“And we feel the connection from the people in the town and the thankfulness of us being here,” Martin says.
ANS President Freda Westman told the delegates there is a lot of work ahead of them in the coming days.
“We are going to leave each evening tired from the work but rejuvenated because we are working together,” Westman says.
The theme for this year’s grand camp convention is “Our Land, Our Future”.
On the agenda are updates about the organization from camp officers as well as reports from other Native organizations such as Sealaska Corporation, RURALCAP, and the Tlingit and Haida Central Council.
Also expected to speak are politicians running for office in regional, state, and federal elections.