The largest annual gathering of Native peoples in the United States will kick off with an event in Atwood Center on Sunday, October 15th.
Spearheaded by local motivational speaker and performer, Samuel Johns, the event prior to the start of Alaska Federation of Natives Convention is called Decolonizing the Dream: Honoring our Sacred Mothers and will aim to honor the women in the Native Alaskan community.
“This event is something I felt I needed to do,” Johns said. “To show the females in my life that everything they do is appreciated.”
Partially inspired by a similar event Johns witnessed at Standing Rock, the premise of the gathering is to create a space for women to relax and enjoy themselves while the men cook, serve, and clean up a meal of moose soup, as well as perform traditional Alaska Native songs.
Though Johns is officially hosting the event, Lt. Governor Byron Mallot will also be speaking and Miss WEIO will perform emcee functions.
Johns said he also hopes the event will set a tone of gratefulness before the convention begins.
“It’s largely women who put on AFN and they do so much,” Johns said. “I hope that even when the week gets hard, they’ll remember this event and will know they’re appreciated for all they do and have done. And it will set an example to the younger generations to do good work.”
Johns is no stranger to doing good work.
Two years ago he founded Forget Me Not, a Facebook group that connects Alaska Natives that are homeless in Anchorage with their home communities.
Johns said in early 2015 a woman approached him while he was getting gas, asking for spare change. Johns bought her food and asked her where she was from. That conversation sparked a movement. He went home and created the Forget Me Not page and soon began posting pictures of homeless people who’d like to get messages to their home communities or who would like to go home. That page has since swelled to more than 22,600 members. Some of the members have donated clothing. Some have donated food. Others have donated their time. And others have donated Alaska Airlines miles. Collectively, they’ve been able to send dozens of people back to their home communities.
What that exact number of people given a free ride home is, Johns isn’t sure. He stopped counting early on — he didn’t want to feel like the people he helped were trophies. Doing events, speeches and helping others, in his mind, is what he’s meant to do.
“I’m a doer, I do things,” Johns said. “I do things for myself and my community.”