Native Sisterhood President Hits at Rights Bill Opposition
Opposition that had appeared to speak with a strong voice was forced to a defensive whisper at the close of yesterday's Senate hearing on the "Equal Rights" issue. Mrs. Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the last speaker to testify, climaxed the hearing by wringing volleying applause from the galleries and Senate floor alike, with a biting condemnation of the "super race" attitude.
Reciting instances of discrimination suffered by herself and friends, she cried out against a condition that forces the finest of her race to associate with "white trash."
Answering the oft-voiced question, "will this law eliminate discrimination," Mrs. Peratrovich admitted that it would not; but, she queried in rebuttal, "do your laws against larceny and even murder eliminate 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, she said.
Declaring their opposition to the law, unless it is amended, senators Scott, Whaley, Collins and Shattuck spoke their feelings on the issue during the two hours of discussion; while Senators Walker and Cochran held forth in favor of the law. Senator Joe Green was chairman for the Committee of the Whole hearing.
Senator Allen Shattuck opened the discussion by repeating a statement he declared he had already made to Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. "This bill will aggravate, rather than allay the little feeling that now exists," he stated. "Our native cultures have 10 centuries of white civilization to encompass in a few decades. I believe that considerable progress has been made; particularly in the last 50 years," Senator Shattuck declared.
ANB President Talks
Peratrovich was then asked to the stand by Senator N.R. Walker and following questions that established his education, background, and right to speak for the Indians, Peratrovich was invited to express his views on the question before the Senate.
He pointed out that Gov. Ernest Gruening, in his report to the Secretary of the Interior, as well as in his message to the Legislature, had recognized the existence of discrimination. He quoted the plank adopted by the Democratic Party as its Fairbanks convention, which favored action on the natives' behalf. Reading the names of the members of the committee that helped frame that plank, he pointed out that among than were members of the present Senate body.
"Only an Indian can know how it feels to be discriminated against," Peratrovich said. "Either you are for discrimination or you are against it," accordingly as you vote on this bill, he added.
Declaring that he had an amendment to propose to the measure, Senator Frank Whaley read a lengthy prepared address to the assembly; in which he labeled the measure a "lawyer's dream" and a "natural in creating hard feeling between whites and natives." He stated his flying experience in many parts of Alaska as authority behind his the opinion he had reached.
Declaring himself "personally assailed" by Senator Whaley in his remarks, Senator O.D. Cochran raised his voice for the bill, offering instances of discrimination which came, he declared, from a list of similar occurrences in his own knowledge that would occupy the full afternoon to relate. As in his speech on the matter before the House, Senator Cochran made use of a theater in Nome as a prime example of an establishment where discrimination is practiced.
Senator Walker supported Senator Cochran's views, declaring that he knew no instance where a native had died of a broken heart, but added that he did know of situations where discrimination had forced Indian women into living lives "worse that death."
Senator Tolbert Scott, in one of his rare participations in debate, spoke from the heart his feeling that the bill, as it stood, would not accomplish the purpose intended. "Mixed-breeds," he declared, are the source of the trouble. It is only they who wish to associate with the whites. "It would have been far better had the Eskimos put up signs 'No Whites Allowed'," he said. He stated his belief that the issue was being raised to create political capital for some legislators, and concluded that "white women have done their part" in keeping the races distinct; if white men had done as well, there would be no racial feeling in Alaska.
Speaking from his long experience, among Eskimo peoples in particular, Senator Grenold Collins furnished a sincere and authoritative voice in opposition to the bill. He supported Senator Scott's contention regarding mixed breeds by citing the well-being of the Eskimos of St. Lawrence Island, where white men have not worked their evil. "Eskimos are not an inferior race," he stated, "but they are an individual race." The pure Eskimos are proud of their origin and are aware that harm comes to them from mixing with whites. It is the mixed breed who is not accepted by either race who causes the trouble. Declaring, "I believe in racial pride" and do not think this bill will do other than arouse bitterness, Senator Collins lashed out at the sale of liquor to natives, as the root of trouble.
A motion to report progress, offered by Senator Walker, was approved, following the testimony of Mrs. Peratrovich, which terminated the discussion.
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