Hundreds gathered Sunday to celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich Day at the Juneau Tlingit and Haida Community Council, and to honor the release of the 2020 Elizabeth Peratrovich gold dollar.
The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood sponsored the event, which nearly filled the hall. Speeches and performances of traditional dances and songs set a bright tone for the day, the 75th anniversary of Peratrovich’s famous speech before the territorial legislature of Alaska.
“Ms. Peratrovich made it clear that asking for equal rights implies that they’re someone else’s to give,” Alicia Maryott of the ANS said. “As we honor her today, let’s remember her resilience.”
Maryott exhorted the crowd to follow Peratrovich’s example in standing up to injustice, especially with the huge number of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, established Feb. 16, 1988, honors the day Peratrovich made an impassioned speech to the territorial legislature in 1945 in support of the Anti-Discrimination Act, an act designed to outlaw discriminatory practices against Alaska Natives present across much of the territory.
“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights,” Peratrovich said at the 1945 hearing, firing back at a senator who had wondered aloud why Alaska Natives should be afforded equal rights. Peratrovich’s testimony is widely considered to be decisive.
“This is one of our own, the first Alaska Native woman to grace currency in the United States, Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich,” Paulette Moreno of the ANB/ANS Grand Camp said. “Peratrovich is the first Alaska Native woman to appear on the $1 U.S. coin, of which five million are being issued.”
Rep. Andi Story and Rep. Sara Hannan also briefly addressed the crowd, praising Peratrovich’s efforts to build a better future with equality for all on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S., though Hannan acknowledged that in 1920, only white women truly gained their suffrage.
“The Juneau delegation really wanted this 31st Legislature to honor Elizabeth Peratrovich,” Story said. “We know we need to improve and keep on moving.”