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KNBA News - Tlingit civil rights leader nominated for $10 bill; Climate change endangers artifacts

Aug 17, 2015

Aug. 17, 2015

Civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich nominated to be on new $10 bill

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

The Walker-Mallott administration has nominated Tlingit civil-rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich to be on the new $10 bill.

The U.S. Treasury is collecting nominations of women who were champions for democracy to put on the redesigned note. The governor and lieutenant governor say Peratrovich fits the description well. 

Walker Press Secretary Katie Marquette says Peratrovich is an obvious nominee.

"Elizabeth was the driving force for the civil rights movement in Alaska," says Marquette. "And she played an instrumental role in Alaska becoming the first organized government in the United States to end legal discrimination. That was almost 20 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.”  

Peratrovich is most famous for her 1945 speech to Alaska’s Territorial Senate during debate on a bill to prohibit racial discrimination. It eventually passed.

She responded to a lawmaker who referred to Natives as uneducated “savages.” Peratrovich's speech was recreated in a documentary video by Mara Sheakley-Early.

"I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery," Peratrovich told the Senators, "would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights."

The administration nominated Peratrovich in letters to the secretary of the treasury dated Thursday. Marquette says supporters should send similar letters. She also encourages Alaskans to share their opinions online. Alaska already celebrates Feb. 16th as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

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Arctic Series

By Tim Ellis, KUAC-Fairbanks

Josh Reuther opens the heavy door to the artifact repository at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Museum of the North. Reuther is a professor of archeology and a curator at the museum, where most of the artifacts excavated in Alaska are preserved.

“Everything’s climate-controlled – temperature and humidity,” he says as he thumbs through a drawer of plastic bags filled with artifacts excavated from St. Lawrence Island in the 1920s.

“Let’s see,” he said, “harpoon heads; you can see toggles; you can see drilling implements...”

Reuther says over the past few years the museum has been getting more artifacts that are more deteriorated than those excavated decades ago.

He says that’s mostly due to climate change.

“It’s something that’s now a concern really around the entire circumpolar north,” says Max Friesen, an archeologist with the University of Toronto.

Friesen is working on a dig near the MacKenzie River Delta, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“It’s kind of a whole series of problems coming together at the same time to sort of create a perfect storm,” he said.

“You have the potential melting of the permafrost, you have sea level rise, you have in some cases changing weather patterns.”

Friesen and other archeologists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of organic artifacts excavated in the Arctic. Those artifacts, made of materials like wood or animal hides, were until recently abundant at digs around the region, because they’d been preserved in permafrost or silty soils.

“It’s a very rich data base that’s being lost all across the Arctic,” he said.

Rick Knecht, a professor of archeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, agrees. He's been working a dig near Quinhagak , in southwestern Alaska.

“There’s so much information there that’s far away and beyond a conventional archeological site, which is just stones and bones,” Knecht said.

Anne Jensen is an archeologist and senior scientist for Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. who’s working at sites near Barrow, Alaska.

She says the threat to artifacts is growing, and that time is short for archeologists to recover them.

“We probably only have 20, 30 years to get this data, or it’s gone,” Jensen said.

The archeologists say more funding is needed to get as much work done as possible in the time remaining.