The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood are becoming closer. The longtime Southeast advocacy groups voted last week to work under the same, updated constitution. Before, they were separate.
A year ago, the Alaska Native Brotherhood began revising its constitution and mission statement. They hadn’t been significantly changed for decades.
The updated version went before last week’s Grand Camp Convention in Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island. Delegates voted to approve the changes – and make them also apply to the Alaska Native Sisterhood.
“We’ve had two different constitutions, for ANB and ANS. So now this one governs both. They’re distinct bodies yet. They’re not merged,” says Dennis Demmert of Klawock, the new president of ANB’s Grand Camp, the Brotherhood’s regional organization.
“The way we do business will be pretty much the same. We’ll continue as two separate organizations, but we’ll have a single mission,” he says.
There was opposition, some of it strong.
But new Sisterhood Grand Camp President Mary Brown of Klawock says two-thirds of the delegates voted in favor.
“I feel that we are now working together as a whole and the only thing we can do from the last day of convention is to take each positive step forward to better the health, education and welfare of the people of Alaska,” Brown says.
Other changes brought the constitution and mission into the present. Demmert says some parts were outdated.
“In the earlier days there was interest because we didn’t have citizenship and we wanted citizenship. We did not have civil rights and we wanted that. And we wanted land. So those were things that were goals that have been accomplished,” Demmert says.
Earlier rules also restricted membership to Native people. The new document removes that requirement.
“A lot of non-Native people have been interested in what we’re doing. A lot of non-Native people have joined. The local camps have kind of ignored that provision, but the provision was there,” he says.
Leaders hope some of the changes will help broaden membership. James Williams of Klawock is ANB’s new Sergeant of Arms.
“We have to concentrate on how we’re going to reach our young generations to participate in this organization. Because they’re next in line, just like they told us when we were joining,” Williams says.
This year’s convention was the Brotherhood’s 99th, and focused on history. Next year it will be where the first camp, or chapter, set up shop.
“It’ll be in Sitka, and it’s going to be a very major celebration, given that we’re going into the next 100 years” says Ketchikan’s Richard Jackson, the previous ANB Grand Camp president. He didn’t run for re-election.
He says this year’s attendees heard about the organizations’ past from author Peter Metcalfe and history professor Stephen Haycox.
The Alaska Native Sisterhood formed a few years after the Brotherhood. But ANS President Mary Brown says it will be part of the ANB’s anniversary.
“As far as we’re concerned we’re one. It doesn’t matter what year we started up. But right from day one of the ANB, the sisters have been there and supported them 100 percent and we will continue to do so. We will celebrate the 100th year together,” she says.
Those at the meeting also expressed support for landless Natives, who live in communities without Native corporations. They also backed stronger subsistence rights and expressed concerns about the growing number of suicides.
The convention also recognized longtime leader Walter Soboleff, who died earlier this year at the age of 102. His position within the ANB was grand president emeritus. His successor has not been named.