“Feeding this many people requires having team leaders,” Ginnis said.
The potlatch got off to a somewhat late start, with food not being served until about 5:30 rather than the scheduled 5:00 start time, but no one seemed to mind the delay.
Each seat in the room had a grocery bag that included a plate, bowl, cup, napkin and plasticware. While some sat, others joined in singing and dancing with singers from Tanana, who originally sang to celebrate the bringing in of the soup, and continued while the arena waited for opening prayers.
Traditional foods such as fry bread, dried salmon, muktuk and herring eggs were served, along with salmon and moose meat. Ginnis said 1,500 pounds of salmon were prepared for the meal.
The potlatch was not limited to traditional foods. Ham, coleslaw, potato and macaroni salad, along with jell-o and brownies were also served. All of the food was made by volunteers, including the Hutchison Career Center’s culinary program.
Ginnis said this is the first time AFN has held a welcoming potlatch in Fairbanks. He said usually the delegates are hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, but a month ago the idea came about to have a full-on potlatch. He said it’s also the biggest one he’s ever been a part of.
“It’s a first for us,” said Linda Ingham, the manager of Parks and Recreation, which manages the arena.
At about 7:30, with an hour and thirty minutes still left in the potlatch's scheduled time period, Ingham said counters at the door had tallied 2,985 people. At some point before that, at least one side of the bleachers was nearly full. The bleachers themselves hold 2,250 people.
Ingham said the arena hosted the World Eskimo-Indian Olympic games about five years ago before they moved to the Carlson Center, but they’d never done anything of this size with the ice still down. Heavy vinyl covered the arena’s ice rink surface, and only the ends of the boards were taken down.
Ingham said that first thing Thursday morning, the rink would be flipped back to an ice rink.
The groups that made the potlatch possible were the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks Native Association, Denakkanaaga, Doyon Ltd., Effie Kokrine Charter School, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Interior Regional Housing Authority and the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks.