Elizabeth Peratrovich to be First Alaska Native on U.S. Currency

Elizabeth Peratrovich is set to be the first-ever Alaska Native woman to be featured on U.S. currency.

Peratrovich — who was part of the Tlingit Nation — played a key role in getting the earliest U.S. anti-discrimination law passed. The Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945 prevents discrimination on the basis of race in the state of Alaska.

Peratrovich, an activist, also served as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, an organization that fights against discrimination of Alaska Native people. The Alaska Native Sisterhood, along with the Alaska Native Brotherhood, proposed the bill.

Peratrovich’s impassioned testimony before the Alaska Senate is credited with aiding the passage of the law.

Her speech outlined the reality of prejudice against and dehumanization of Alaska Native people.

“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 them of our Bill of Rights,” she said.

She discussed her personal experiences with the cruelty she faced as a second-class citizen and the feeling of entering public spaces with “No Dogs or Natives Allowed” emblazoned on signs.

The law made racial discrimination illegal and punishable with jail time and a fine.

Peratrovich will appear on the $1 coin. The design of the Elizabeth Peratrovich coin includes her engraved on the tails side along with a Tlingit Raven moiety, or clan, symbol and the words “Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945.” Patrick Hernandez, the U.S. Mint Chief Administration Officer, unveiled the coin’s design during the Alaska Native Brothers and Alaska Native Sisters Convention on Oct. 5.

Under the Native American $1 Coin Act, the U.S. began minting currency honoring Native American figures on them. The first came out in 2000 and displayed a portrait of Sacagawea, a young Shoshone woman who served as a guide, translator and mediator for Lewis and Clark during their Louisiana Purchase expedition. The heads side of each coin now includes the 2000 image of Sacagawea.

Other figures featured on the coins include athlete Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox tribe and engineer Mary Golda Ross of the Cherokee tribe, but Peratrovich will be the first Alaska Native woman to be featured on the coins.

November is Native American Heritage Month, but Oct. 5 marked the declaration of November as Alaska Native Heritage Month.

The official release of Peratrovich’s coin is set for 2020, which will be the 75th anniversary of her speech and the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945.

“The coin will be a lasting tribute to Elizabeth Peratrovich to tear down the wall of discrimination against Alaska Natives,” Hernandez said at the unveiling. “Perhaps Elizabeth was like the raven, crying out until the darkness of discrimination was dispelled.”

Related Story: ‘Not Invisible Act’ Aims to Stop Violence Against Native American Women  

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