Fairbanks Native Association was formed to bring Alaska Native people living in Fairbanks together; an association that would represent urban Natives from any village, to give them a sense of belonging where there was none; an association that would speak on behalf of Alaska Natives, who had little political clout; and an association that would meet their cultural, social, and economic needs.
For thousands of years Alaska’s first people, jointly called Alaska Natives, made their livelihood as subsistence hunters and fishermen. In Alaska’s interior region the subsistence traditions of their ancestors were forever changed by the first successful expedition into the Interior by Lt. Henry Allen in 1885 and the discovery of gold in the Tanana Valley surrounding Fairbanks.
The discovery of gold brought thousands of non-Native people to the area and the Alaska Native traditional subsistence lifestyle began to give way to one marked by permanent villages, which today rely in large part on a cash economy.
The increasing reliance of these villages on the cash economy has forced many Alaska Natives to leave their ancestral homelands for Alaska’s urban areas, including Fairbanks, to seek employment.
In 1960, only 12% of Alaska Natives lived in urban areas. By 1990 the percent of Alaska Natives living in urban areas increased to 44%. Population changes between 1980 and 1990 reflect the highest rate of Native in-migration to urban centers.
In 1990, for instance, 11% of the population of the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (Alaska’s Interior) migrated to other parts of Alaska.
The experiences of the first Alaska Natives to move to the city of Fairbanks were marked by discrimination. Many Alaska Native men serving in the United States Army during World War II at Ladd Airfield Base near Fairbanks were barred from Fairbanks stores, hotels, restaurants, and bars. At that time “No Indians” signs and attitudes were an integral part of the Alaska Native experience in urban areas.
By the mid-1960s most of the signs had come down, but Alaska Natives continued to find that they were welcome in few public places.
“Even people who didn’t drink had no place to go except the bars,” said Poldine Carlo, Athabascan Native Elder and one of FNA’s charter members, when asked why she started FNA.
“Because there was nowhere else for them to go, we started inviting people over to our house. For two or three winters, we even had different village mushers and their dogs staying here in the woods behind our house.”
It was these experiences that led Poldine Carlo and others, including her husband Bill and Ralph Perdue, Morris Thompson, Margie Wright, John Sackett, and Max Huhndorf to organize an association for urban Alaska Natives.
While the Civil Rights Movement was shaking the nation, Alaska Natives in Fairbanks started meeting around Poldine’s kitchen table to design an association that would bring Alaska Native people living in Fairbanks together; an association that would give them a sense of belonging where there was none; an association that would speak on behalf of Alaska Natives, who had little political clout; and an association that would meet their cultural, social, and economic needs.
In 1967 Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) was incorporated as a nonprofit under the laws of the State of Alaska. Membership then as it is now was open to Alaska Natives and American Indians of one-quarter blood or greater who once a year elect a nine-person board of directors.
Today FNA is a powerful and influential Native American voice in Alaska. Over the years this organization has changed public policies that were discriminatory to Alaskan Native people and their programs have helped countless people find new jobs, maintain sobriety, celebrate their culture, and receive an education.