FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Inside the gymnasium of the Barnette Magnet Elementary School, community members gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of a well-known civil rights leader for Alaska natives, Elizabeth Peratrovich.
Yativaey Evans, director of Alaska native education for the Fairbanks north star borough school district spoke about the event.
"we're here today to celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich day, along with our entire state that celebrates in the month of February, and really just honor her legacy as well as who we are as native people. There are so many different cultures that are here in Alaska and Elizabeth Peratrovich herself was Tilinkit, but here in the interior we have a whole merit of people," said Evans.
In 1945 Peratrovich stood before the senate to address equal rights and a bill prohibiting discrimination in Alaska.
Diane Benson, who portrays Peratrovich in the movie, “for the rights of all: ending jim crow in alaska, shared her thoughts. "could you imagine, as a woman, and as a native woman, here she is, standing in front of all these male legislators, almost all of them. Non-native."
Peratrovich described the cruel treatment that native people endured at that time, describing segregation, and the children when they saw signs in windows that read "no dogs or natives allowed".
Benson performed a representation of Peratrovich, and what she said to congress that day in 1945.
"would we be compelled to live in the slums. Even now the schools are closed to our children. And signs make it quite clear that i as well as dogs are not allowed. No law will eliminate crime. But at least you as legislators can assert to the world that evil of this present situation. And help us overcome discrimination, overcome discrimination for all Alaskans, "said Benson.
After her speech the senate rose in applause, and passed the first non-discrimination law in the country, by a vote of 11-5.
"but of course that didn't come easily, and there are still feelings of unease, and today you can still sometimes feel that, throughout our communities but I really believe together we can overcome anything and really capitalize on lots of different ways from the multi-cultural communities that we live in," said Evans.
Those like Evans and Benson are working to teach younger generations the history of their people, their adversities and their triumphs.
February 16th is celebrated annually as a day to commemorate Elizabeth Peratrovich day, and the anniversary of the signing of the anti-discrimination act.