Elizabeth Peratrovich Day TSAS

Kindergarteners perform a song Friday afternoon during an assembly in honor of Alaska Native civil rights advocate Elizabeth Peratrovich at Tongass school of Arts and Sciences. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Throughout the past week, many schools and organizations have come together to honor and spread education about the work of Elizabeth Peratrovich in recognition of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on Feb. 16.

Peratrovich, a Petersburg-born Alaska Native civil rights activist, fought for equal rights for Native individuals, and was crucial to the development of the Alaska Territorial Legislature's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945.

In 1988, Alaska state legislation was passed to established Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, which is observed every Feb. 16.

This year, Feb. 16 fell on a Sunday, leading schools to celebrate the occasion both before and after the actual day.

The Tongass School of Arts and Sciences welcomed a panel of guests and speakers during an assembly in Peratrovich's name held on Friday afternoon.

Students from preschool through sixth-grade filled the TSAS gymnasium for the event, which opened with TSAS' Tlingit welcome song, which was taught to students and staff by Teresa Varnell, a cultural educator for the Ketchikan School District.

After the welcome song, TSAS Principal Marian Gonzales introduced the students to a panel of guests.

The guests included betsy Peratrovich, Elizabeth Peratrovich's granddaughter; Beth Lougee, superintendent for the Ketchikan School District; Sidney Hartley, the chair of the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day Committee for the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 14; Natasha Clevenger, ANS Camp 14 president; Vickie Foust, secretary of ANB Camp 14; and Lisa Dewitt-Narino of the Ketchikan Indian Community language program.

During the assembly, Foust and betsy Peratrovich – who spells her name with a lowercase 'b' — stood behind a microphone and took questions about her grandmother's life and work in civil rights.

“I think it lets our kids know that you could do anything, if you set your mind to it,” Peratrovich later told the Daily News about the importance of teaching her grandmother's story.

After Peratrovich answered questions, students revealed their contributions to the assembly for the gathered guests.

Preschool students and kindergarteners performed a poem they had learned, while first- and second-graders used American Sign Language to perform the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.

Third- and fourth-grade students debuted a variety of projects ranging from artwork to poems, while fifth- and sixth-graders presented a PowerPoint alongside a series of stop-motion videos about civil rights.

Kevin Clevenger, a Native dance instructor, had been working with the student body of TSAS on Native language, song and dance skills. He led the students through a Native “challenge song.”

During the song, he split the students into groups of boys and girls. He encouraged each group to separately sing the Tlingit song as loud as they could, as a challenge to the other side.

Just three days after TSAS, Ketchikan Charter School honored Peratrovich at a school assembly early Monday morning.

The KCS assembly brought together students from first through eighth grades, and featured a completely different panel of guests than TSAS.

Before the event began, KCS Principal Kayla Livingston told the Daily News that students had been attentive while learning about Peratrovich's work, and that she thought it brought “a lot of pride” to students, particularly students who are Alaska Native.

According to KCS Administrative Assistant Jessie Embree, the event had taken close to two months to plan.

Monday morning's assembly featured three 15-minute speeches from members of the Alaska Native community.

The first speaker that Embree welcomed to the stage was Gloria Burns, the leader of a local Haida dance group and a member of the Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council. While Burns had spoken to TSAS students during cultural enrichment classes, she said she had never before spoken at an event honoring Peratrovich.

At the beginning of her speech, Burns performed a Haida song that she described as “a call to action.”

“Songs are ceremonies, and they're also prayers in my culture,” she told the assembled students.

Burns used her speech as a chance to encourage the students to be active in their communities.

“Your family needs you to have a voice,” she told the students.

After Burns, Embree introduced ANB/ANS treasurer Cynthia Llanos.

“When you think about Elizabeth, think about a woman who wanted equal rights for her children,” Llanos said at the beginning of her speech.

Llanos then asked the audience what they wanted to change in their community.

Llanos emphasized that there were many opportunities for young community members to be involved in important issues.

“She (Peratrovich) grew up in a time where we needed strong young people to talk for the Natives,” Llanos said.

Llanos told the students that the ANB and ANS were both opportunities to get involved in important community issues – she added that anyone could join the groups because “we all have the same issues.”

After Llanos, Terri Burr of the Tsimshian Tribal Association and the Ketchikan School District Title VI Parent Committee took the stage.

“You could be a help for Ketchikan, our city, today,” Burr announced to the students at the beginning of her talk.

Burr, who is Tsimshian, then led students and staff through a traditional peace song.

The song stood for peace and the spreading and receiving of good intentions, said Burr

She said that “it is good that we be of one heart,” which was the main message of the song.

“When we are all under the same roof, it's time to put our differences aside,” Burr said.