Have you ever wondered why we are here on earth? Are we here to see how much money we can make or how many things we can collect? Perhaps we believe we are here to see how far we can advance in our job. I grew up knowing we were here to love God, love others, and love ourselves. These commandments are so important they are listed first in the Bible (Matthew 22:37-39). If we don’t begin by loving ourselves, how can we effectively love God or others? It begins by being the best we can be, with making good decisions so that we can look at ourselves at the end of each day and feel good about our choices. We need to begin by learning to love ourselves.
Our world today is a witness to how many ways we don’t love ourselves. Drug use is at an all-time high, powerful addictions hold us captive, and domestic violence in Alaska is the highest in the nation. Change is made one person at a time. Change is made when we can look in the mirror and like that person we see. Change is made when we can serve God in such a way that others can come to know God just by knowing us.
Civil Rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich was such a woman. She was a gentle, loving woman and a devoted wife and mother. She lived at a time when the Alaska Natives weren’t accepted by many.
My parents, Henrietta and Richard Newton, were Salvation Army officers stationed in Juneau. They fell in love while attending a Salvation Army Training Corp in Toronto, Canada. My mom was born in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her parents, along with all her siblings, were born in Switzerland. My dad was a full-blooded Tlingit Indian who was born in Douglas but raised in the village of Kake. They became friends with Elizabeth and her husband, Roy. At one time, our family lived close to the Peratrovich home on 12th Street. I would play with their daughter, who was my age, while our respective parents visited.
The following story is in the DVD entitled “For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska.” While my parents were still living in Kake, they made a trip to Juneau in the early 1940s. Mom made an appointment to have her hair permed at a local beauty parlor. The beautician, seeing my mom walking with my Aunt Martha (dad’s sister), made the assumption that my mom was Native by association. When Mom went into the beauty shop for her appointment, the beautician firmly stated my mom couldn’t enter.
“We don’t serve Natives here.”
Mom was shocked. She spoke boldly back to the beautician and walked away.
Knowing this was really unacceptable behavior, Mom talked to Elizabeth about what she had experienced. Elizabeth and Roy were Grand Camp Presidents of the ANS and ANB. My mom later spoke to the Grand Camp delegates, telling them of her recent experience and encouraged them to address this issue of racial discrimination.
They knew discrimination against Natives was wrong and a white woman associated with Alaska Natives was being subjected to this prejudice as well. Something had to be done.
The Grand Camp wrote a resolution to the Territorial Legislature demanding they address this issue. The Anti-Discrimination Act was defeated in 1943. In 1945 Elizabeth addressed the Senate. She spoke eloquently to the Senators about those “barely out of savagery” reminding “gentlemen with 5,000 years of civilization…” about the Bill of Rights. In 1945 the Anti-Discrimination Act passed, the first such Act to pass in the United States.
Elizabeth was a remarkable woman. She loved God. She loved her neighbors as she loved herself. She made a difference in the world.
What are you doing with your life? Do you love yourself? And if not, what can you do to feel better about your life? Can you reach out to help another? Is there something that you can do to make the world a better place? February is an excellent time to be reminded of that four-letter word. Love. May all of us strive to feel this depth of love and want to make a difference in our world.
• Myrna Allen “Lgeik’I” Eagle Moiety, Tsaagweidi Clan is a member of Chapel by the Lake.