The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at the Evergreen State College celebrated Elizabeth Peratrovich Day with song, dance and education. An invitation to the public brought dozens of people. The evening gathering was the Longhouse’s first in-person event since 2019. Evergreen College President John Carmichael was present, as well as the Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers and the voice actress of the popular “Molly from Denali” television show.
Peratrovich was born Kaaxal.gat of the Tlingit Lukaax.adi clan in Petersburg, Alaska in 1911. She was adopted and named Elizabeth Wanamaker. She grew up in Alaska and later went to Western Washington University in Bellingham. After meeting and marrying Roy Peratrovich, they later relocated to Juneau. It was there that they were both involved in the Native community groups. Elizabeth was the grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS).
Appalled at the rampant discrimination, Peratrovich and the ANS actively supported anti-discrimination legislature. At one point in the long battle of bills not making it past the house legislature, Elizabeth abruptly stood and addressed the assembly, making a moving speech about civil rights. It was that very February 16, 1945 session in which the bill finally passed, and it was the first civil rights legislation in the United States. “Elizabeth Peratrovich was one of a group of Tlingit and other Alaska Native women who called for civil rights for Alaska Natives in the years before Alaska became a state,” explains Vice President for Tribal Relations, Arts and Cultures Kara Briggs. “In Alaska, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is a state holiday. We celebrate in Thurston County and throughout the Seattle metro area because of a population of more than 5,000 Alaska Native peoples who live here and contribute to the cultural life of our region, including the Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers and ‘Molly of Denali’ voice actress Sovereign Bill.”
The anniversary celebration in the Longhouse included the documentary film “For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska.” The film covered the history of struggles for the many Alaska Native tribes and the efforts of both the Alaskan Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood groups. “I enjoyed the opportunity to share Elizabeth Peratrovich’s story with an audience that might be less familiar with her work and that of other Alaska Natives who started fighting for civil rights in Alaska prior to statehood,” says Managing Director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center Laura VerMeulen. “It really means a lot to Native people to know about those from many different tribes who work on behalf of the people.” VerMeulen, who is related to Peratrovich through her mother’s side of the family, spoke and introduced the evening’s presentation.
Davina Barril, Tlingit song and drum leader, lead a prayer in song and spoke to the gathered crowd. The Alaska Kuteeyaa Dancers processed through the audience and performed a few dances with drums, singing and full display of traditional wear. “For me, I loved seeing the ‘Weavers Across the Waters’ robe danced by Florentino Barril Sr.,” shares VerMeulen. “It is a very special robe first dreamed by the late Clarissa Rizal as a way to honor the fiber arts studio which at the time, was just getting underway. The robe was presented to the Longhouse by Lily Hudson Hope in October 2018 at the opening of the studio.”
Voice actress Sovereign Bill of “Molly of Denali,” who was also one of the evening’s dancers, spoke as well.
The first of more events to come at the college, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, was a popular restart to times of gathering and learning.