Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Come Celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich Day at UAA - and Other Tlingit Notes

I. Today is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

On this day 65 years ago, the Alaska Legislature signed into law legislation granting equal rights to Alaska Natives. In 1988,
this day was named for Elizabeth:

On February 6, 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16th (the day in 1945 when the Anti-Discrimination Act was signed) as "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day," in order to memorialize the contributions of Peratrovich "for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska"

Tonight, at 7:00 p.m, at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska Anchorage, the recent movie, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska, will be shown.

Here's my review
of the film.

Contemporary Tlingit civil rights and women's rights activist, writer, playwright and political candidate (Democratic Party candidate for Lt. Governor in 2010), Diane Benson plays the role of Paratrovich in the film, as she has scores of times around Alaska, in Benson's monodrama about the earlier iconic woman.

After the film's showing, Benson, the film's director, Jefffrey Silverman, UAA's outgoing Chancellor, Fran Ulmer, and others will participate in a panel discussion. Here is Ulmer's proclamation, made in 1992, when she was a member of the Alaska Legislature, designating today as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day:

Forty-seven years ago, Elizabeth Peratrovich championed the cause of civil rights in Alaska and silenced the voices of prejudice and discrimination.

It was February, 1945. The Territorial Senate met as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the equal rights issue and a bill prohibiting racial discrimination in Alaska.

The bill was assailed as a "lawyer's dream" which would create hard feelings between Natives and whites. Many senators stood in turn to speak against equal rights. Their arguments are, by now, familiar ones in this country.

-- They said the bill would aggravate the already hard feelings between Natives and whites.

-- They said the bill was unnecessary -- that Natives had made great progress in the 10 centuries since contact with white civilization.

-- They said the real answer was in the separation of the races.

Those are the ideas we have come to recognize in the last 20 years as the public face of private injustice. The opponents of racial equality have always refused to recognize the problem. Refused to recognize the injury done. Refused to recognize the jobs lost, the poverty incurred, the blows to self-esteem sustained every day by those who have done nothing to merit such injury.

Those voices of prejudice were reduced to a whisper, 47 years ago, by a woman who spoke from the heart.

According to the legislative custom of the time, an opportunity was offered to anyone present who wished to speak on the bill. Elizabeth Peratrovich was the final speaker on that day in 1945. After the long speeches and logical arguments were over, Elizabeth rose to tell the truth about prejudice.

"I would not have expected," she said "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."

She talked about herself, her friends, her children, and the cruel treatment that consigned Alaska Natives to a second class existence.

She described to the Senate what it means to be unable to buy a house in a decent neighborhood because Natives aren't allowed to live there.

She described how children feel when they are refused entrance into movie theaters, or see signs in shop windows that read "No dogs or Natives allowed."

She closed her testimony with a biting condemnation of the "Super race" attitude responsible for such cruelty. Following her speech, there was a wild burst of applause from the Gallery, and the Senate proceeded to pass the Alaska Civil Rights Act by a vote of 11–5.

On that day in 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich represented her people as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. She was a champion of Alaska Natives and of all people who suffered from discrimination.

In the 33 years since Alaska statehood, we have had too few women and minorities elected to office. But their presence has been felt, just as Elizabeth Peratrovich's presence was felt that day in 1945. In naming Gallery B for Elizabeth, we honor her today for her vision, her wisdom, and her courage in speaking out for what she believed to be right. She symbolizes the role the gallery plays in the legislature and the importance of public opinion in the legislative process. She reminds us that a single person, speaking from the heart, can affect the future of all Alaskans.

II. Tribal Voice Radio
was launched yesterday. Here's more information, from Anonymous Bloggers:

Tribal Voice Radio, a new online radio station operating with the approval and guidance of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, will officially launch today at 8:00 A.M. at tribalvoiceradio.com./ radio.com.

From the Juneau Empire:

The main goal is to capture the language, clan stories and ways of life of the Native people,” said project coordinator Simon Roberts. “We’re looking at being able to give back to the culture a new life and gather all the communities here in Southeast as well as the Tlingits and Haidas in Canada.


CCTHITA Business Economic Development Department manager Andrei Chakine hopes the station will attract non-Natives as well.

It will be really nice to bring out the Native issues to the non-Native community, so that the non-Native community understands what kind of issues people here in the Southeast are dealing with,” he said.

The station will offer a wide range of programming geared toward preserving Native language and promoting cultural understanding. It will offer everything from traditional and contemporary Native music and archived radio archives to the sharing of family lore and recipes.

The station hopes to receive FCC approval within the next nine months to occupy a space in the FM band. Right now it’s home on the Internet offers live streaming, schedules, an online store and Tribal Voices ringtones.

images - Elizabeth Peratrovich (state archives); Diane Benson as Elizabeth Paratrovich (Bill Hess)

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