Peratrovich gives birthday present to civil rights leader and step towards healing Sitka’s cultural wounds
Monday was Independence Day, but it was also the 111th birthday of Elizabeth Peratrovich, a pioneer of the civil rights movement in Alaska and the United States. In Sitka, residents chose the day to dedicate a monument to Peratrovich, at a spot where – until recently – another monument once stood.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey was in attendance and sent this audio postcard.
Song: Happy birthday dear Elizabeth… (first in English, then in Lingít).
Peratrovich’s monument is a park bench, but on a scale designed to ensure the honoree’s memory for years to come: two slabs of yellow cedar hewn from a felled 124-year-old tree, set in concrete and weighing approximately £2,000.
Peratrovich was born in Petersburg, but her work is an enduring legacy of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, which was founded in Sitka, and the organizations’ efforts to pass the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act through the territorial legislature.
David Kanosh led the spiritual dedication from the bench.
“I stand here as a guest in the land of the Kiks.ádi…the land of Kaagwaantaan. I ask your permission to talk about this country. Gunalchesh! Kanosh said.
Kanosh told the story of Raven and the Box of Daylight, to illustrate Peratrovich’s impact on the lives of Alaskans, Native and non-Native alike.
“Raven came and he found a man, a miserly man, who had these boxes which contained the stars, the moon and the sun. Raven was able to acquire the boxes. He was able to release the stars and the moon, into the world and in the sky. But there was one more box, a daylight box. Raven opened the daylight box. The sun rose for the first time and people no longer had to walking in darkness. Kanosh added, “That’s how I think of Elizabeth Peratrovich.”
The former great president of the ANS, Paulette Moreno, animated the dedication. This ceremony was a moment for her to come full circle, starting with a moment in October 2016, when she donned Tlingit regalia and climbed Castle Hill during the annual Alaska Transfer Reenactment, and held a small sign reading “Gunalchesh! Sheet’ka Kwaan, for your concern for the Tlingit Aani since time immemorial.
Moreno was then active in the effort to remove the bronze statue of Alexander Baranov that once stood there in Sitka’s Centennial Square, and she alluded to it briefly – and humorously.
“And we are honored that so many of you have come to show your love, support and respect. Gunalchesh!” she said. Now Doug, can you raise your hand? You’re taking pictures from there right now (audience laughs). It is significant.
The removal of the Baranov statue and its subsequent relocation inside the Sitka History Museum was peaceful and accomplished with government support. Compared to the removal of similar reminders of historical trauma, it could have been much worse. Deputy Mayor Kevin Knox also linked this ceremony to this moment.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing more and more change in our community and across our country in how we respect, honor and appreciate everyone in our community,” he said. “On behalf of the City of Sitka and the Assembly, Gunalcheesh.”
After everyone present plunged their hands into a bowl of water collected from the various river systems that support Sitka, and sprinkled her on the bench, Knox and Liz Howard, a life member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, cut the ribbon, and the party moved indoors – out of the sun – for birthday cake and coffee.