Thursday, February 16, 2012

Peratrovich and company: Standing up for centuries

I heard a great question posed to a group from the ANDORE project - a group gathered to promote dialogue on racial equity that I've been pleased to be involved with.

She asked about Elizabeth Peratrovich Day (today!): "Why does this day matter to you?"

I answered with what I've always felt, that it is a day to remember we stand on the shoulders of giants, and that we have a responsibility to continue their hard work.

But then I was doing a write-up tonight for a class I'm taking, and most of it was focused on a narrative of an early 19th century Native man. I came across this passage:

"Who stood up in those days, and since, to plead Indian rights? Was it the friend of the Indian? No, it was his enemies who rose - his enemies, to judge and pass sentence."

I wonder if this man, Apess, could envision a future in which a little Tlingit woman would stand before a political body and, not plead, but demand Indian rights? That she might shine their own hypocrisy in their face.

However terrible the circumstances were 150 years ago for Native people, because of those who did stand up, in Elizabeth Peratrovich's time, they were better. Not perfect, but men and women continued to fight, and because of them, in my own time circumstances are better still for Native people. So how can we not continue to stand up? How much better will it be for our own children if I do?

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