Sunday, May 29, 2016

Native American Biographies: Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit, Civil Rights

If you talk about civil rights, Elizabeth Peratrovich should be part of the conversation, if that conversation includes all people.  She championed the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.  The Tinglit people live in South West Alaska and occupy the rain forest and Alexander Archipelago.  The tribal boundaries also extend into Canada.  In 1924 the U.S. Government granted citizenship and the right to vote to all native Americans.  However Indians still faced discrimination.  She was born Elizabeth Wanamaker, and married Roy Peratrovich when she attended college in Bellingham, Washington.  They eventually moved back to Alaska and joined the Alaska Native Sisterhood and Alaska Native Brotherhood respectively.  They both became presidents of their local chapters when the moved to Juneau.  Natives were not allowed to attend public school in Juneau.  A law suit forced integration.  However signs saying "No Natives Allowed" or "No Dogs or Indians Allowed" were common in the area.  The Pertroviches could not but a home where the chose.  They took the discrimination issue to the territorial legislature.  Elizabeths testimony on discrimination was the determining factor to swing the vote.  The anti-discrimination law outlawed discrimination in housing, public accommodations and restaurants in Alaska.  It was the first explicit anti-discrimination law in the United States.  It was signed in 1945.  The date of signing, February 16 is now Elizabeth W. Peratrovich Day in Alaska.

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