February 16th is a significant day for Alaska Natives. It is the day in 1945 when Alaska Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening signed a bill enacting the Anti-Discrimination Act. It was this Act that secured equality for Alaska Natives by prohibiting discrimination in public places.
And it was the work of Alaska Native and civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband Roy that must be remembered. Their fight against discrimination was honored and recognized in 1988 when the Alaska legislature declared February 16 Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.
In the 1940s,
Peratrovich and her husband began fighting the prejudice that Alaska
Natives faced in education, business, housing, law, and federal benefits.
They fought as presidents of the Alaska Native Sisterhood and Alaska
Native Brotherhood twin groups dedicated to achieving political
and social change for Alaska Natives, beginning in the territorial days.
They were diligent with their letter-writing campaign and testimony. But in 1945, it was the words of Elizabeth Peratrovich, spoken from the gallery during a Senate hearing on equal rights, that rang home when she reminded legislators of the Bill of Rights and alerted them to the existing injustice. Her demeanor and dignity were in striking contrast to many of the ills she was fighting.
Peratrovichs are remembered each year in February. A bronze bust of
Elizabeth, sculpted by her son, Roy Jr., sits in the foyer of the Capitol
Building in Juneau. And recent news from the National Museum of the
American Indian excites sons Roy and Frank and
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