Elizabeth Kaaxgal.aat Peratrovich’s legacy is strong in Juneau, where a recently finished mural and renamed plaza help honor the memory of the civil rights activist. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Elizabeth Kaaxgal.aat Peratrovich’s legacy is strong in Juneau, where a recently finished mural and renamed plaza help honor the memory of the civil rights activist. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Organizations unite to celebrate legacy of Elizabeth Peratrovich

Juneau recently named a plaza in her honor.

Local and state Alaska Native organizations came together on Wednesday evening for a digital celebration of the life of civil rights activist Elizabeth Kaaxgal.aat Peratrovich on the day commemorating her life.

Speakers came together over Zoom to honor Peratrovich’s titanic efforts to fight discrimination against Alaska Natives.

“Today we recognize Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Alaska Native Sisterhood alongside Roy Peratrovich and the Alaska Native Brotherhood in their years of advocacy to pass the Anti-discrimination Act of 1945,” said Daphyne Albee, grand president of the ANS. “The words of Elizabeth Peratrovich not only moved the members of the Senate but continue to encourage us as we fight for equal rights today.”

[Book traces over 150 years of Black history in Alaska]

Presenters showed videos of children and adults singing about Peratrovich, the discrimination she fought against, her famous speech to the Alaska Territorial Senate, and the laws her hard work brought into being. The law against discriminating against race, passed in part because of Peratrovich’s advocacy, predates the federal Civil Rights Act by nearly two decades.

“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights,” Peratrovich said in her famous address on Feb. 8. 1945.

Presenter and First Grand Vice President of the ANS Heather Lgeik’i Powell also thanked local artist Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl for permitting speakers to use her illustration of Peratrovich, recently unveiled in the plaza renamed by the City and Borough of Juneau for Peratrovich downtown.

“We have a lot of organizations that have worked together to create a strong program,” Powell said. “Not only this program tonight, but to pull together every single day to hold our people up, to hold our state up.”

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson spoke to the importance of continuing the fight for voting rights, and for the involvement of youth in society and government.

“ANB and ANS were the boots and the ground, on the frontline, advocating for the passage of the first anti-discrimination law in the nation,” Peterson said. “It’s important that we work to engage our youth to continue this legacy of advocacy. It’s important that their voices be heard and that they have seats at the table.”

Peratrovich’s ferocious clarity of purpose as she addressed the Territorial Legislature is a constant inspiration, said president and CEO of the Sealaska Corporation Anthony Mallott.

“I love putting myself in the room with her at that moment. She was beyond courageous. She was smart. She was passionate. She knew that the ANB and the ANS were behind her. She knew what she was doing was the right thing to do,” Mallott said. “She was the tip of the spear for the ANB and ANS.”

Mallott talked about Peratrovich’s indomitable attitude, even as he spoke about more work needing to be done in our world.

“It shows us we have more to do,” Mallott said. “We can celebrate, we can fill up with motivation and inspiration that we get from seeing her lovely picture and recognizing all she has done, and the ANB and ANS has done, and go back to work tomorrow with many of you to keep working for what she knew was right.”

The issue of voter rights was a common topic for speakers. Co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives Ana Cungass’aq Hoffman spoke of the ongoing struggle against those who would restrict the ability of the many to make their voices heard.

Other speakers included ANB Grand President Marcelo Quinto, President and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute Liz La quen náay Medicine Crow, Tlingit and Haida Tribal Court Chief Justice Michelle Jaaghal.aat Demmert, and others. The complete presentation is available online at Tlingit and Haida’s social media page.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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