Reflecting on Elizabeth Peratrovich’s Enduring Legacy

Feb. 16, 2022

Faculty, staff and students,

Each year on February 16, we celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich and reflect on her extraordinary and enduring legacy. At a time when Alaska Native Peoples experienced intense discrimination, Peratrovich’s advocacy — and her pursuit of equal opportunity and protection from discrimination for all — inspired legislators to pass the first Anti-Discrimination Law in the United States, 14 years before Alaska gained statehood.

As a Tlingit woman, Peratrovich campaigned tirelessly against discrimination toward Alaska Native peoples. Fighting against vocal opposition, Peratrovich took the Senate floor, calling for equal treatment of Indigenous peoples. During her historic presentation, and after describing the restrictions and discrimation she and her family faced on a daily basis, a senator asked if she thought the bill would end discrimination. She replied, "Do your laws against larceny and even murder prevent those crimes? No law will eliminate crimes but at least you as legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination." Due to Peratrovich’s impassioned bravery, on February 16, 1945, Governor Gruening approved the country's first anti-discrimination law. 

As a UA community, we all can play a role in continuing Peratrovich’s legacy by affirming our commitment to equality and respect. Through the Alaska Native Success Initiative (ANSI), we honor Elizabeth Peratrovich by building on her vision. In November 2021, the Board of Regents passed the ANSI five-year strategic plan which includes updating our system-wide training, increasing Alaska Native visual representation across all universities and campuses, and being accountable to our partners across the state. One major goal is to see greater representation of Alaska Native students and employees in all programs and at all levels of the university system in numbers more reflective of the Alaska population. To learn more check out our webpage: https://www.alaska.edu/redis/.   

“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us of our rights” is my favorite quote from Peratrovich. Today, let’s remember her, as well as all of our Alaska Native peoples who have fought hard, for many years, for Alaska Native peoples to be given equal rights in our state.  

Dr. Pearl Brower
Senior Advisor Alaska Native Success, Institutional Diversity, and Student Engagement