On a recent weekday, reigning Iditarod champion John Baker and his team of 17 sled dogs circled the roads of Kotzebue. Lead dogs Velvet and Snickers guided the trot as Baker rode behind in a three-quarter-ton Chevy pickup.
Another fall day. Another training run above the Arctic Circle for Baker's record-busting kennel.
This week, however, the Inupiaq musher is taking a break. Like thousands of Alaskans from towns and villages across the state, Baker is headed to Anchorage for the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
Not only the largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives, the three-day meeting is the biggest regular convention of any kind in the state, the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau said. Alaska's mega-meeting, in other words, is back in town.
The conference begins Thursday at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center downtown with Baker making the keynote speech. The related First Alaskans Elders and Youth Conference begins today.
The visitors bureau expects about 4,200 people to visit the city for AFN while the First Alaskans Institute anticipates about 1,300 for the elders and youth gathering, where people young and old will talk about the past, present and future of Alaska Native culture and language.
All told, convention organizers, attendees and their families are expected to spend more than $7 million while they are here, said Julie Saupe, chief executive for the convention and visitors bureau. Many delegates live in far-flung villages, some from communities where there is no running water, let alone Costco.
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