Haida artists to lead AFN convention, speak on heroism in the homeland

World-renowned Haida weaver Delores Churchill and her grandson, the Haida master carver Donald Varnell, will represent Southeast Alaska as keynote speakers during this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

The AFN Annual Convention is the largest annual gathering in the United States of any Native peoples. Each year, the AFN Convention draws between 4,000 to 5,000 delegates and observers. The proceedings are broadcast live statewide via television and radio and webcast to some 70 countries worldwide.

Churchill is a Chilkat weaver from Ketchikan whose artistic influence and knowledge of the art stretches around the globe. She has also worked as a researcher and consultant, helping curators identify works in museum collections.

Her role as an artist and culture bearer has received accolades such as the Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Alaska Southeast, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Artist residency, a travel grant from the Alaska State Council On The Arts to study Haida basketry in London and Canada and a Sealaska Heritage Foundation study grant.

Also from Ketchikan, Varnell is a folk and traditional artist who blends tradition with social, cultural and political ideas in his multi-disciplinary works of art.

He has apprenticed under Tlingit master-carvers Nathan Jackson and Will Burkhart, as well as Haida master-carver Reggie Davidson. His work stands in public, museum and private collections worldwide and throughout Alaska. He has been awarded numerous Percent for Art commissions at schools and youth facilities throughout Alaska as well as a Rasmuson Foundation Artist Fellowship.

“AFN is pleased that Delores and Donald have accepted our invitation,” AFN President Julie Kitka said. “Having these two keynote speakers is a way for AFN to showcase the actual sharing of our cultural traditions between generations, and they are an inspiration to the entire Native community.”

The convention will take place Oct. 15-17 at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage, and the keynote addresses are scheduled for the first day. The theme for this year’s convention, “Heroes in Our Homeland,” will be highlighted by the speakers; it is a reflection of Alaska Native values and guides the structure and focus of the convention gathering.

“This year’s theme was chosen as a way to recognize and celebrate the many heroes living among us, the people working humbly to strengthen our communities,” Kitka said.

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