2019 Iditarod Champion Pete Kaiser lifts up the crowd with AFN keynote address
Fairbanks – Iditarod 2019 champion Pete Kaiser and keynote speaker for the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention Oct. 17 told the audience how just like his winning kennel is a community where all dogs play their part so too each member of Alaska Native communities, from youth to elders, have a role to play in the success of all.
Kaiser took the stage to cheers of “Way to go Pete,” spurred on by a video replay of Kaiser’s March finish in Nome and an introduction by Lee Ryan, Bering Straits Native Corporation board member and president of Ryan Air.
“I have chills right now watching that video,” Ryan then told the crowd about witnessing the historic finish. “What do we say, “Way to Go Pete.”
After thanking AFN for inviting him, Kaiser told the audience that he does his best thinking on the back of a dog sled and that as he’s been training since August he’s had many hours to compile his keynote address.
He also told the crowd how grateful he is for his life experiences growing up in rural Alaska and to have a community of supporters from family, friends and sponsors who helped lift him up to achieve success so that he could be in a position of honor at the podium of AFN.
“A kennel is a common term for a dog team but what I realize now is we slowly built a sled dog community to achieve common goals,” Kaiser said. “Every aspect of our community must be in order to achieve success.”
Kaiser then went on to compare each generation of sled dogs to human counterparts who make up an Alaska Native community. “Puppies are the first layer, representing the future of our community and raising them to succeed is a critical component to a long term success,” he said. Kaiser described teaming young dogs with more experienced and well-behaved adult teammates so they can learn by watching.
“As teens our young adults will be exposed to many new things and given opportunities unique to the rural communities we live in,” Kaiser explained. “This stage of life is crucial as the opportunities to wander off the race trail are endless.”
Kaiser then placed the most emphasis on the adults. “The adult dogs are those we count on when the going gets tough. Each dog understand his role and uses a particular skill set to help the team,” he said.
“As adults, we are the team that represents our community. We are the role models that will shape the lives of our children and our youth. We have a responsibility to work together as a team to build healthier, stronger and safer communities. We have the responsibility teach our future generations not just by saying the right things but by doing the right things,” Kaiser stated to roaring applause.
“Our retired dogs are our elders,” he said. “Our elders are the gateway to knowledge and history. They hold and observe wisdom that cannot be obtained by any book or website.” Kaiser explained that the elders have earned their place in the sun to relax and sit regal and, so too, in the community they must be respected and kept safe. He urged listeners to embrace their community and be proud of where they come from, to dream big and work hard.
“Realize there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going,” Kaiser said.
“I have no doubt that everyone in this room, whether they know it or not, shares all these same qualities. If you haven’t found your place in the team yet, keep at it and be ready for your opportunity.”
Kaiser finished to a standing ovation and a series of gifts from AFN and tribal leaders including a handmade qaspeq, carved ivory sled dog team and a chief’s necklace.
“We do not gift these lightly,” AFN co-chairman and former chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference Will Mayo said, referring to the chief’s necklace. “These are a sign of leaders who have earned their leadership recognition by their works,” Mayo explained. “Like Pete said, ‘not by what they say but by what they do.’ I see leadership and I heard a beautiful keynote address that I will hold in my heart.”
Kaiser is the first Yup’ik musher and fifth Alaska Native to win the 1,000-mile Iditarod sled dog race. Born and raised in Bethel, Alaska, he is also a four-time champion of the Kuskokwim 300.