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Words One Lives By (the “missing” Wednesday post) February 22, 2022

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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, February 16th, which was Elizabeth Peratrovich Day! You can request an audio recording of this practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“a káa ñududziteeyi yoo ý’atánk (noun) law, words one lives by

  • Tléil oowaa wé aan káa ñududziteeyi yoo ý’atánk géide

    ñudunoogú. It is wrong to act against the law of the land

*

– quoted from Dictionary of Tlingit by Keri Edwards, Anita Lafferty, John Marks, June Pegues, Helen Sarabia, Bessie Colley, David Katzeek, Fred White, Jeff Leer

Some of the best themes, in my opinion, come from conversations. Take Wednesday’s theme, for instance. I could go into any number of reasons why it hasn’t come up before – and go back to several conversations over the years as to how and why it could have come up. Ultimately, however, I was primed to notice certain things this year – when there was an opening in my calendar.

First, there was a February 10th text message from a friend (A), kind of wondering why I hadn’t mentioned that the Dawes Act (also  known as the General Allotment Act) passed on February 8, 1887. The legislation allowed the United States government to seize and break up tribal land and, honestly, I would much rather spend the 8th focused on how we can come together. Then, a couple of days later, after a practice where the weekly sūtra lined up perfectly with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, one of my yoga buddies (J) mentioned that some languages don’t have words for “freedom” and “liberation.” I thought that was interesting, but didn’t agree that that meant those communities didn’t value freedom – just, perhaps, that the didn’t think of freedom and liberation in a legal sense, as we do in the United States. After all, why would so many ancient texts (like the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sūtras, the Upanishads, the Ashtavakra Gita, the Torah, and so many Buddhist texts) spend so much time on the subject of freedom and liberation if the concepts weren’t important? But, I got my friends meaning – especially, because (as I’ve mentioned several times this month) some words just don’t translate into English.

Then, I pseudo-randomly decided to watch a discussion related to the fact that the team previously known as “The Washington Football Team” changed their name to the “Washington Commanders” [insert your favorite pun here]. The discussion was between Roy Wood Jr. (of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah); sports journalist Bomani Jones, and Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative and a Pawnee citizen. After watching the slightly over 48 minutes of conversation, I probably spent twice that amount of time ranting (via text) to my brother about how there could possibly be (as statistics indicate) people in this country that don’t know Native people exist… like still exist. It was just hard to wrap my brain around the idea that just by virtue of the places I’ve lived, I’ve known more people than others. (Note, this is not the first time such statistics have flabbergasted me.) Finally, as I was thinking about what I would do for Wednesday’s practice, I came across this 1945 civil rights anniversary – and I thought it was going to be a story we all (already) knew.

“moksha (mokṣa), mokkho, mōkṣa, moksh, mōkṣaṁ, mōkaśa, mokhya, mokshamu,

vimoksha, vimukti, vīdupēru,

kaivalya, apavarga, mukti,

nihsreyasa, and/or nirvana”

*

– words related to the end of suffering, the end of ignorance, and the end of the reincarnation cycle that are often translated into English as “freedom,” “emancipation,” “enlightenment,” “liberation,” “release,” and/or “enlightenment”

 

Wednesday’s class was another “answer” to the Tuesday riddle (Always old, sometimes new…). It was based on a story that I thought I knew – a story, maybe, that you think you know too. It’s a story about the “beginning” of the civil rights movement in the United States and the story about the beginning of the end of segregation and “Jim Crow” laws. It’s a story about the first anti-discrimination law in the United States (and its territories).

Knowing that, just that, you may be scrambling through your knowledge of history (and law) and thinking about what came first in the timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement. But, I’m going to ask you to set aside most of what you know – just for a moment. I’m going to ask you to set aside what immediately comes to most people’s minds when they think about discrimination and Jim Crow laws. Because, this is a story that (probably) predates what most of us learned in school. It’s a story that dates back to the early 1900’s, not the 1950’s or 60’s – and really has nothing to do with the South, or African-Americans. It’s a story about people who, to this day, are still fighting for their rights: Indigenous and aboriginal people.

That’s right, the first (20th century) state or territorial anti-discrimination law in the United States was specifically intended to criminalize discrimination against indigenous people. Specifically, the Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945 (also known as the Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945) banned discrimination against individuals in public spaces based on race. It was signed into law on Friday, February 16, 1945, by then Governor Ernest Gruening. Prior to the enactment of the new law, many white-owned Alaskan businesses segregated Alaska Natives and/or completely denied them service. People were told they could not live and/or work in some areas of the city. Some even went so far as to deny employment based on race and would advertise “All White Help.” Just like in the South, there were lots of others signs that explicitly stated that some people had the same status as dogs.

Although he supported the bill, the governor – who would become one of the first Alaskan senators (1959-1969) – was not a resident of the territory nor someone being directly affected by the discrimination that the law eventually criminalized. But when those affected spoke, he listened. One of the people to whom he listened was Roy Peratrovich, then president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB). Another person the governor not only heard, and also echoed, was Elizabeth Peratrovich, then president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS). Both Mr. and Mrs. Peratrovich were members of the Tlingit nation and, by all accounts, Elizabeth Peratrovich was someone whose very presence commanded everyone’s attention.

But, let me not get ahead of the story.

“With measured composure, [Elizabeth Peratrovich] flawlessly articulated the extent of discrimination against Alaska Natives. ‘There are three kinds of persons who practice discrimination. First, the politician who wants to maintain an inferior minority group so that he can always promise them something. Second, the Mr. and Mrs. Jones who aren’t quite sure of their social position and who are nice to you on one occasion and can’t see you on others, depending on who they are with. Third, the great Superman who believes in the superiority of the white race.'”

*

–  quoted from the February 16, 2019 Indian Country Today article entitled “February 16 in Alaska honors Tlingit activist on ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day’: Anchorage School District, ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader.'” by Leslie Logan

Similar to what happened in the Lower 48, the first part of the battle around civil rights in Alaska was related to education. The Nelson Act of 1905 established funding and guidelines for segregated schools in Alaska (as well as for “the care and maintenance of insane persons in said district… [and] the construction and maintenance of wagon roads, bridges, and trails in said district”). It explicitly stated that  the schools would be established and supervised by a board “elected annually by the vote of all adults who are citizens of the United States or who have declared their intention to become such and who are residents of the school district.” The problem, of course, was that many of the affected parents were not considered citizens even though they had lived in the area prior to the government being established. So, they couldn’t vote and the couldn’t be on the board. In other words, they had no say over the education of their children. A “path to citizenship” would eventually open up in 1915, but it would require a person to obtain the endorsement of 5 white citizens – which was challenging, given segregation – and to cut “all tribal relationships and adapted the habits of a civilized life[,]” which people were (understandably) reluctant to do.

In 1908, William Paul, who was the first Tlingit attorney in Alaska, won a case in Ketchikan (Tlingit: Kichx̱áan) that allowed mixed heritage children to attend regular public school. Despite the victory, there was still segregation in most public spaces and so the fight continued. In 1912, thirteen men from a private college in Sitka (Tlingit: Sheetʼká; Russian: Ситка) founded the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), which pushed wider access to education, voting rights, desegregation, social services, and land rights. In 1915, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANB), joined the fight. By the 1920’s, Mr. Paul and his older brother Louis were active ANB members. In 1929, the ANB and ANS successful boycotted a segregated movie theatre in Juneau (Tlingit: Dzánti K’ihéeni) and got the establishment to desegregate.

Other theatre’s followed suit; however, even when the buildings were desegregated, the seating areas were still segregated. In 1944, Alberta Schenck, a sixteen-year old mixed-heritage member of the Inupiat nation, had a part-time job as an usher at the Alaska Dream Theatre in Nome (Inupiaq: Sitŋasuaq). Part of her job was to make sure non-white customers sat in the designated / segregated area. When she complained about the segregation, she was fired. After she was fired, the determined teenager did two things: she wrote an essay that appeared in the op-ed section of the newspaper and she showed up at her former place of employment with a white army sergeant as her date. Naturally, they sat in the “Whites Only” section. When the couple refused to move, the police were called to arrest Alberta Schenck. Her arrest fired up the people and, once she was released, she wrote a letter to Governor Ernest Gruening – whose response included the reintroduction of anti-discrimination legislation.

Section 2. Any person who shall violate or aid or incite a violation of said full and equal enjoyment; or any person who shall display any printed or written sign indicating a discrimination on racial grounds of said full and equal enjoyment, for each day for which said sign is displayed shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than thirty (30) days or fined not more than two hundred fifty ($250.00) dollars, or both.”

*

– quoted from the “Penalties” section of Chapter 2 of Anti-Discrimination Act, House Bill 14, from Session Laws of Alaska, 1945

Around the same time the activists started the boycott in Juneau, the Peratrovich’s were getting married – and encountering racism. Of course, the young couple had dealt with racism throughout their young lives. Roy, after all, was born in 1908 – the same year William Paul won his landmark desegregation case – and Elizabeth was born in 1911 – the year before the formation of the ANB. Both were of mixed heritage and initially met, as children, in Klawock (Tlingit: Láwaak), a small town on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island.  In some ways, they had similar schooling experiences. For her part, though, Elizabeth was surprised to find, when she first started school, that there were no Native Alaska teachers and “speaking Tlingit was not allowed.” In fact, students speaking Native languages were often punished. Eventually, she would go to her father’s alma mater and Roy went away to a boarding school in Oregon. It would be several years before they reconnected and, of course, they would be different versions of themselves.

Many people make a point to emphasize Elizabeth Peratrovich’s birth date, July 4th, as it seems she was destined to bring people more liberation and freedom. It was not only her birth date, however, that made her memorable. There was also the combination of her demeanor and her efforts. Born under problematic circumstances, in Petersburg (Tlingit: Séet Ká or Gantiyaakw Séedi “Steamboat Channel”), Alaska, she was mixed heritage and taken to the Salvation Army, where she was adopted by Andrew and Jean Wanamaker (née Williams). The Wanamakers were also members of the Tlingit nation and Mr. Wanamaker, who had attended the aforementioned private school in Sitka, was a charter member of the ANB and a lay minister of the Presbyterian Church. The Wanamaker’s gave their daughter an English name (Elizabeth Jean) and a Tlingit name (Ḵaax̲gal.aat). 

“Understanding the meanings of Tlingit names can be difficult. Lance Twitchell, assistant professor of Alaska Native languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, says Andrew’s Tlingit name, Chalyee Éesh, means ‘the father of Chalyee,’ which may mean ‘beneath the halibut.’ Jeans’s name, Shaax̲aatk’í, means ‘root of all women.’ Elizabeth’s Tlingit names was Ḵaax̲gal.aat, which may mean ‘person who packs for themselves.'”

*

– quoted from “2. Growing Up the Alaska Native Way” in Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.

Roy Peratrovich’s Tlingit name was Lk’uteen.

The Peratrovich’s were very active in their community. They had three children (Loretta Montgomery, Roy Jr., and Frank); Elizabeth attended the Presbyterian Church; and Roy was repeatedly elected mayor of Klawock. They moved to Juneau, in part, to be more involved in the movement and became the first Indigenous people to live in a neighborhood that was not specifically designated as “Native.” Eventually, their second child (Roy Jr,) would be one of the first Indigenous children to attend a public school. (He would also write parts of a book about his mother’s story.)

After she and her husband helped to draft the anti-discrimination bill, Elizabeth Peratrovich had the opportunity to testify in front of the Alaskan legislature. Her efforts had already earned her a great ally in the governor. However, they also drew the attention of her own personal “master teacher / precious jewel” in the form of a territorial senator named Allen Shattuck, who opposed the anti-discrimination legislation from start to finish. Throughout the public hearing in 1945, the senator challenged Mrs. Peratrovich and questioned her authority to speak to the legislature. I can only imagine that she found him infuriating and annoying, but her responses to him were rational and measured. Her words convince me that underneath those velvet gloves, she had an iron fist.

“Shattuck is on the record as having stated: ‘The races should be kept further apart. Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?’

Peratrovich was not daunted by the derision and responded to Shattuck in her testimony, famously stating: ‘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.’”

*

–  quoted from the February 16, 2019 Indian Country Today article entitled “February 16 in Alaska honors Tlingit activist on ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day’: Anchorage School District, ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader.'” by Leslie Logan

Media and eyewitness accounts of the senate hearing indicated that pretty much everyone was moved by the words of Elizabeth Peratrovich. There were descriptions of people cheering, applauding, and even crying. When the anti-discrimination bill passed, with a vote of 11 to 5, on February 8, 1945, I can only imagine that Allen Shattuck looked like he was tasting something bitter. My guess is that he was further chagrined by Governor Gruening’s statement that “Although we cannot by legislation eliminate racial prejudice in public places from the minds of men, legislation is useful to stop acts of discrimination.” Those words, as you will see, mirrored the closing statements of Mrs. Peratrovich.

Many people in Alaska credit Elizabeth Peratrovich with ending (legal) school segregation and discrimination in public places. Note, this was nineteen years before similar legislation would be signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson – and, in both cases, many people participated in the process. In April of 1988, then Alaska Governor Steve Cowper established April 21 as “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.” The date was later changed to February 16th, so that it would coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the anti-discrimination legislation. The civil rights activist has been honored in many other ways including with a Google Doodle designed by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade (who is also a member of Haida). The doodle appeared in the United States and Canada on December 30, 2020, the anniversary of the date in 1941 when Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich decided to petition the governor because they were sick of the “No Natives Allowed” signs. Earlier in 2020, Mrs. Peratrovich was also depicted on the reverse of the revised Sacagawea dollar coin.

The “golden dollar” coin was first issued by the United States Mint in 2000, and then minted for general circulation in 2002. General circulation was briefly halted, in 2008, and then reinstated in 2012. The coin was intended as a replacement for the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin and there was a lot of debate about who (or what) would appear on the face of the coin. One fairly popular idea was that it should be a Statue of Liberty coin, but the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee recommended a coin to honor the Shoshone guide Sacagawea, essentially making her the first mother – and the first working mom – depicted on U. S. currency. With the assistance of a Shoshone-Bannock/Cree model named Randy’L He-dow Teton, the sculptor Glenna Goodacre designed the obverse picture of Sacagawea and her son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Thomas D. Rogers Sr., a U. S. mint sculptor-engraver designed the original reverse picture of a soaring eagle. 

On September 20, 2007, President George W. Bush signed what is known as the Native American $1 Coin Act, which allowed for changes in the original design of the Sacagawea dollar coin. Those changes included provisions for the reverse design to be changed every year, beginning in 2009. The United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Native American Caucus and the National Congress of American Indians appoint a liaison (to the U. S. Mint), who works with the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee to select potential ideas and the ultimate design. Since 2009, the reverse has depicted:

  • the “Three Sisters” (winter squash, maize, and climbing beans);
  • the “Great Tree of Peace” (symbolized by the Hiawatha Belt wrapped around five arrows, above the words “HAUDENOSAUNEE*” and “GREAT LAW OF PEACE”);
  • the hands of the Supreme Sachem Ousamequin Massasoit and Governor John Carver, symbolically passing the ceremonial peace pipe after the initiation of the first formal written peace alliance between the Wampanoag tribe and the European settlers (in 1621);
  • a Native man and horses to symbolize trade;
  • a turkey, a howling wolf, a turtle, and thirteen stars to symbolize the 1778 treaty between the Delaware Nations** and the colonies; 
  • a Native couple offering hospitality, in the form of a peace pipe and provisions, with a stylized image of a compass pointing NW to symbolize the Lewis and Clark Expedition;
  • a steelworker over the New York City skyline to honor the Kahnawake Mohawk and Mohawk Akwesasne communities whose “high iron” construction work helped build of New York City bridges and skyscrapers, beginning in the 19th century;
  • a World War I era helmet and a World War II era helmet laid over two feathers in the shape of a “V” to honor the over 12,000 World War I code talkers who served during World War I and the over 44,000 who served during World War II***;
  • Sequoyah writing, “Sequoyah from Cherokee Nation” in Cherokee syllabary, the written language he devised – which created the opportunity for a new form of journalism and diplomacy;
  • three images of Jim Thorpe, the Olympian and professional athlete who was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation and whose given name was Wa-Tho-Huk (“Bright Path”);
  • symbols of Native contributions to space exploration, including depictions of the 2002 space walks of Captain John Herrington, of the Chickasaw Nation, and Mary Golda Ross, of the Cherokee Nation, who is recognized as the first female engineer at Lockheed Corporation and the first Native female engineer in the United States;
  • civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich depicted with a stylized raven, a symbol of the Tlingit Raven moiety;
  • two eagle feathers and five stars, surrounded by a hoop, to honor “distinguished military service since 1775;”
  • Brevet brigadier general Ely Samuel Parker, born Hasanoanda (Tonawanda Seneca), later known as Donehogawa, with writing utensil and book in hand – as if he were writing the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms at Appomattox, as he did while serving as adjutant and secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant

All of the coins listed above are legal U. S. tender, however, they are produced as collectibles and often only available online. While you could use them for your next purchase, it is most likely that the person at the register has never seen anything other than the original Sacagawea.

“Senator Shattuck asked, in what was described as combative in tone, if she thought the proposed bill would eliminate discrimination. Peratrovich responded, ‘Do your laws against larceny and even murder prevent those crimes? 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.'”

*

–  quoted from the February 16, 2019 Indian Country Today article entitled “February 16 in Alaska honors Tlingit activist on ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day’: Anchorage School District, ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader.'” by Leslie Logan

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

Musical Note: With the exception of the fourteenth and twenty-first tracks, all the music on the playlist features musicians and/or groups recognized by the Native American Music Awards (NAMA), which awards “Nammy’s” for styles of music associated with Native Americans and First Nations and to nominees who are Native American or when at least one member in a group or band is from a State for Federally recognized tribe. Most of the songs feature people who have been inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame or have been awarded NAMA Lifetime Achievement Awards. Some songs simply won a Nammy (or two). To my knowledge, I only covered ten (maybe eleven) nations. I wanted to include “One World (We Are One)” – which is the result of a collaboration between Taboo, IllumiNative and Mag 7 – but the song was not available on Spotify.

 

*NOTE: Haudenosaunee literally means “people who build a house” or “people of the longhouse” and refers to the Iroquois confederacy, which is comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca people and, as of 1722, the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora people. The indigenous confederacy was initially known to the English as “The Five Nations” – hence the five arrows on the coin – and later as “The Six Nations.”

**NOTE: The Delaware Nation are sometimes known as the three Clans of the Lenape: the Monsi (Munsee) or Wolf, the Unami or Turtle, and the Unilactigo or Turkey. Today the clans are known as the Tùkwsit (Wolf Clan), Pùkuwànko (Turtle Clan), and Pële (Turkey Clan) – with the Delaware Nation being the Pùkuwànko (Turtle Clan).

*** NOTE: Approximately 9% of the overall U. S. population was actively serving in the U. S. military by September 1945. On the flip side, over 12% of the First Nations population, from a variety of communities, served as code talkers.

“According to the Anchorage School District, ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader who was an advocate for Native citizens and their rights. This courageous woman could not remain silent about injustice, prejudice, and discrimination.’ A 2012 school district board resolution stated: ‘Because of her eloquent and courageous fight for justice for all, today’s Alaskans do not tolerate the blatant discrimination that once existed in our state.’”

*

–  quoted from the February 16, 2019 Indian Country Today article entitled “February 16 in Alaska honors Tlingit activist on ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day’: Anchorage School District, ‘Elizabeth Peratrovich Day provides an opportunity to remind the public of the invaluable contribution of this Native Alaskan leader.'” by Leslie Logan

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### breath is daséikw is life ###

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