In Alaska, Feb. 16 is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, commemorating the Indigenous activist for her role in the passage of the nation’s first anti-discrimination law.
Peratrovich was a member of the Tlingit nation who in 1945 represented the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in speaking before the Alaska Senate in support of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. The bill passed following her testimony. It criminalized discrimination against individuals in public areas based on race.
On Thursday, a resolution passed unanimously in the United States Senate recognizing Elizabeth Peratrovich Day nationally for the first time. The resolution was introduced by Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. In a joint release from the two senators, Sullivan said the move places Peratrovich among the nation’s civil rights leaders.
A celebration of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day was held at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Tyotkas Elder Center on Thursday — featuring speeches by tribe elders Linda Ross and Sharon Isaak and traditional drumming by the tribe’s Heartbeat of Mother Earth drum group.
Peratrovich was a “forerunner for racial equality,” Ross said. She asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they had experienced discrimination — most did.
“She was a Tlingit woman, and she was a Native rights advocate. She fought for equality for all of our Native people, in the whole state of Alaska. She’s our hero, someone we look up to,” Ross said. “She was a remarkable woman who led a movement and succeeded in passing the first ever non-discrimination law in the whole United States.”
It would be another 20 years before the civil rights movement, when the rest of the United States finally recognized what was happening, she said.
Isaak read passages from “Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich” by Annie Boochever.
They described Peratrovich’s testimony to the Senate in 1945, as well as the signing of the bill by Gov. Ernest Gruening, who told Peratrovich, “This is the most important legislation passed in Alaska” and said that it never would have passed without her speech.
That speech consisted of “carefully chosen words delivered with elegance and integrity,” Isaak said.
She then read the proclamation made by Gov. Dunleavy last year in commemoration of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, which honored Peratrovich for her life and her contributions to freedom and equality.
Isaak closed her speech by describing the power of people — all people, born “with the same parts.”
“I look at this room, and the power of you folks — the history and lineage of each one of you is remarkable,” Isaak said. “I’ve lived and I got to speak here today. I would hope some day, because of her, we could hear you come to the mic and say, ‘this is what I grew up with, this is where I came from.”
Reach reporter Jake Dye at email@example.com.