Native community remembers civil rights leader

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Juneau's Native community celebrated a historic milestone in civil rights Friday at the ANB Hall downtown with speeches, performances by children in dance and song, as well as fellowship and food.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The annual event to commemorate Elizabeth Peratrovich Day drew more than 120 people to hear speakers talk about Native rights under the theme, "Our Civil Rights, Then & Now."

The holiday marking the signing of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Bill in 1945 was Saturday, but community leaders decided to hold the event Friday evening.

Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Grand Camp president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. She is remembered for her poignant speech that swayed lawmakers who voted to pass the law. She died in 1958, and the holiday was designated in 1988.

In deciding how to commemorate Native civil rights Friday, school administrator Angela Lunda naturally decided to frame her keynote speech around education.

The Gastineau Elementary principal used a Power Point presentation to show the audience how education has changed since 1945.

Lunda discussed how today's lessons are "culturally responsive" from preschool through high school, describing how a mathematics lesson, for example, is framed around picking berries.

She also showed reading books that feature dark-haired children doing traditional things like going egging.

"Contrast that to when we went to school and grew up on Dick and Jane," she said.

Lunda's discussion of a lesson titled, "Who Am I?" struck attendee Ethel Lund as important for Native children to learn about their backgrounds and clan history.

"(Knowing) that they belong to this group of people, it gives them some direction and a strong foundation for their life," Lund said. "I'm glad to see these classes are being offered even in the elementary grades."

Lund, 76, said she had many negative experiences as a Native student in Alaska.

"There was very little recognition of the positive qualities of the Native culture," she said. When considering Lunda's presentation, "the comparison is like black and white," she added.

Friday's event was organized by Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 70, which chose to have junior members serve as mistresses of ceremony for the first time. The decision allowed Jessica Isturis and Elycia Smith to gain experience in public speaking and running a meeting.

Students of the school district's Language and Literacy program entertained the crowd by singing two songs. One was recently written and titled, "ANB & ANS Song."

All Nations' Children performed a handful of dances, and the group ended the evening with a meal of "sisterhood" stew, bread and cake.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or e-mail

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