New Museum Urged To Acknowledge Contributions of
Elizabeth Peratrovich To The Struggle For Native Civil Rights
March 04, 2004
In remarks to the recently concluded winter board meeting of the National Congress of American Indians, Murkowski noted that "Elizabeth Peratrovich is to Alaska what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to America."
Peratrovich, a Tlingit woman, born in Petersburg, Alaska in 1911, inspired the passage of the landmark 1945 Alaska territorial law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. It is believed that the Alaska territorial law was one of the first in the nation. In 1988, the Alaska Legislature established Feb. 16 as "Elizabeth Peratrovich Day" to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
The campaign to enact the anti-discrimination law began shortly after Peratrovich, who moved to Juneau in 1941, wrote a letter to the Territorial Governor, Ernest Gruening, calling his attention to the un-American signs on the Douglas Inn, which read "No Natives Allowed." The letter reminded the Governor that Natives pay the required taxes to the territory - even the unjust school tax - to a system that excludes Native children from the public schools.
Murkowski, during an oversight hearing in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee prior to the Museum's opening this September, asked the Museum Director, W. Richard West, whether the museum would highlight the work of individuals like Peratrovich in the struggle to achieve civil rights for Alaska Natives and American Indians.
West acknowledged Peratrovich's contributions and said the nearly $200 million facility will include several exhibits on the history of the civil rights movement involving Native Americans, one exhibit, "Our Peoples," specifically focusing on the historical efforts of Natives and Indians to gain full rights.
"We have several exhibits that will speak to the very issues you are asking about. One of the exhibits in particular will address these kinds of concerns and what has happened as a matter of history and what is happening in the present, because some of these issues continue. There will be an effort by the Museum and our Native community collaborators to address these kinds of questions concerning Native history as told from a Native standpoint," said West.
The new museum located on the National Mall -- the closest museum to the U.S. Capitol -- will house an extensive collection of Alaska Native artifacts gathered over the decades. Murkowski during the hearing also urged the museum to establish an interactive program through the internet to allow Alaskans, who may never visit Washington, D.C., to view the museum's Alaska collection.
"While we would like to get as many of our Alaskans to the museum as possible to view it, the reality is that Alaska is a long way from Washington. Is there going to be any interactive way for Alaskans to view what's going on in the museum without actually having to come here?" she asked.
West answered that the museum is planning to develop ways to "bring the museum to Natives," through traveling exhibitions and internet projects to help Alaskans view the state's Native history in their own communities.
The museum is slated to open Sept. 21 with a six-day festival highlighting the "songs, steps and stories" of Native America. The museum is expecting large crowds to come to Washington during the grand opening and announced today that it is offering tickets to the public online to guarantee admission. Murkowski said Alaskans who plan on being in Washington for the opening and wish to visit the museum can apply for tickets at http://www.nmai.si.edu or call toll-free, 866-400-NMAI (6624).
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