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Elizabeth Peratrovich Day commemorated
Killer Whale Lady Descendant Dancers perform the "Canoe Song" as part of an Elizabeth Peratrovich Day commemoration on Feb. 13 at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences. Staff photo by Danelle Landis

Daily News Staff Writer

Tongass School of Arts and Sciences celebrated Alaska Native civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich with dancing, speeches and music on the afternoon of Feb. 13.

The event was one of several held by area schools to honor Peratrovich this past week. The official day to honor Peratrovich was designated, in 1988, as Feb. 16.

Honoraries attending the TSAS event included Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand President Joe Williams, Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council Vice President Melissa Johnson, Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 14 Vice President Yvonne Watson, and ANB Camp 14 Sergeant-at-Arms Woodrow Watson.

Two Native dance groups performed at the event, the “New Path” dancers and the “Killer Whale Lady Descendant Dancers.”

In the TSAS gymnasium, the Killer Whale dancers kicked off the event by singing the Haida National Anthem, performing from a corner near where students, staff and teachers sat on the gym floor.

The group, clad in traditional dance costume, then performed the “Canoe Song,” slowly dancing in a line alongside the crowd, moving to the front of the gym as they stroked the air with wooden paddles in time to their singing.

As the song waned, the dancers stood in front of the crowd, and TSAS teacher Clint Schultz — who performed in the dance along with his young children and wife — greeted the crowd and taught them how to join in the next song.

“You’ll hear “Hoo!” a lot,” he called out. He then encouraged them to answer “Wee!” each time they heard it.

Group member Chas Edwardson, wearing a costume faintly rattling with the seashells bordering its hem, then addressed the crowd.

“A little bit about Elizabeth Peratrovich,” Edwardson began. “She was a Tlingit. You guys have been learning a lot about that.”

He then led them through a brief history of her life, reminding them that Peratrovich graduated from Ketchikan High School, then went to college in Sitka and Bellingham, Washington, before marrying Roy Peratrovich and moving to Juneau.

He then described how the couple began to take note of the many ways that Natives were suffering from discrimination.

“After she realized the full extent of the discrimination, she and her husband began to work with others,” to create legislation to address the issue, he said.

“In 1945, the anti-discrimination bill was passed,” Edwardson said, “on Feb. 8, and signed on Feb. 16.”

He reminded the attendees that all Alaskans can be proud of the work that Peratrovich accomplished.

Throughout the event, students took turns stepping up to read short essays they had written about the Peratrovich’s work. The kindergarten class projected a series of videos they’d made, showcasing their research about Peratrovich. A “readers theater” group read a giant book they’d created about Peratrovich together, for the audience.

The Killer Whale dancers then launched into another dance, singing to the beat of their drums and rattles. At one point, they invited all of the girls and women to join them in dance. Many of the students and staff leapt up, grinning and twirling with the dance group members.

The boys were delighted when Kevin Clevenger, who attended to represent the New Path dance group, invited them up to join another rousing dance.

A performance by the TSAS Thunderbird after-school choir featured a song they created by meshing tunes from two songs together, according to music teacher Kelly Burke, and then adding words that honored Elizabeth Peratrovich’s accomplishments.

“Elizabeth Peratrovich, she was an awesome gal, she made a speech that changed a law for you and I,” the group sang out.