Elizabeth Peratrovich Day Recognized Nationally for First Time

The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed a resolution, introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (both R-Alaska), to nationally recognize February 16, 2023 as “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day,” honoring the historic Alaska civil rights leader who played an instrumental role in the Alaska Territorial Legislature passing the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945—decades before the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Elizabeth Peratrovich fought tirelessly for racial equality in Alaska decades before the passage of the landmark national Civil Rights Act,” said Senator Sullivan. “Her words and courage were a light shining through a dark chapter in our history when Alaska Native people were routinely discriminated against and signs reading ‘No Dogs or Natives Allowed’ degraded our communities. Elizabeth Peratrovich changed Alaskan history—and American history—for the better, a fact that continues to inspire future generations and places her in the company of America’s foremost civil rights leaders, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony. With the unanimous passage of our resolution, for the first time ever, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is being recognized not just in Alaska, but by the whole nation—a fitting tribute to this great American.”

“February 16 in Alaska is a significant day. It is a day that the State of Alaska recognizes and observes as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. We have designated this day as early as 1988. But it is a time for us as Alaskans to reflect on the contributions of a pretty extraordinary Native woman, a Tlingit woman,” said Senator Murkowski during her floor speech. “Senator Sullivan and I advanced a Senate Resolution recognizing Elizabeth Peratrovich’s contributions when it comes to civil rights. I think it's always important and timely to pay attention, to reflect on the legacies of those who have really worked to advance a more inclusive society and a more representative democracy… She is an inspiration because she set the example that when you see injustice, you speak out, you take action. And she also provided a great example for why we need to listen to the perspective of all voices, especially those who have been left out or left behind.”

Below is the full text of the resolution.

Title: Designating February 16, 2023, as “National Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.”

Whereas Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, Tlingit, was a member of the Lukaax.ádi clan in the Raven moiety with the Tlingit name of Kaaxgal.aat (referred to in this preamble as “Elizabeth”) who fought for social equality, civil liberties, and respect for Alaska Native and Native American communities;

Whereas Elizabeth, who was born in 1911 in Petersburg, Alaska, experienced discrimination as a Tlingit woman, and dedicated her life to creating a better future for Alaska Natives;

Whereas, more than 6,000 patriotic Alaska Natives protected the United States alongside non-Native Servicemen and women during World War II, despite suffering from unjust discrimination;

Whereas, in 1941, Elizabeth and her husband, Roy Peratrovich, moved to Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, to campaign tirelessly for the passage of the anti-discrimination legislation of Ernest Gruening, the Governor of Alaska, which would later result in the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945;

Whereas, in campaigning for the passage of anti-discrimination legislation, Elizabeth persevered for several years traveling across the Alaska Territory enabling, rallying, and uniting Alaska Natives to fight for recognition that they are created equal to others and equally endowed with “unalienable Rights”;

Whereas Elizabeth was a powerful orator who envisioned unity and then spoke it into existence through community advocacy and the support of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood;

Whereas Elizabeth testified strongly before the Alaska Territorial legislature vote on the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, passionately asking the legislature, “Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it? 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.”;

Whereas the Alaska Territorial Legislature passed the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 on February 16, 1945, which was the first anti-discrimination law enacted in the history of the United States;

Whereas Elizabeth dedicated the rest of her life to create a better Alaska for future generations;

Whereas Elizabeth tragically died of cancer in 1958, but her legacy has not been forgotten;

Whereas, beginning in 1988, the State of Alaska has recognized February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day; and

Whereas, in 2020, the United States Mint released the Elizabeth Peratrovich $1 coin to commemorate the significant impact that Elizabeth had on advancing equality under the law in the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) designates February 16, 2023, as “National Elizabeth Peratrovich Day”;

(2) calls on the people of the United States to observe National Elizabeth Peratrovich Day by remembering the work of Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich and other civil rights leaders; and

(3) encourages the people of the United States and Members of Congress to commemorate the life and civil rights advocacy of Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich by continuing the important work of ensuring equality for Alaska Natives and Native Americans.