Comments on Ḵaax̱gal.aat Yagiyee (Elizabeth Peratrovich Day) 2024

Peter Stanton
5 min readFeb 17, 2024


The following is the text of a speech I gave on February 16th, 2024, as part of celebrations honoring Ḵaax̱gal.aat Yagiyee, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. The speech was given at Ketchikan High School in Kichx̱áan, the town commonly known as Ketchikan, which is located on the lands of the Taantʼa and Sanyaa ḵwáan (Tongass and Cape Fox people) in Lingít Aaní (Tlingit Country).

Yakʼéi sitgawsáan, ldakát yeewháan. Ḵúnáx̱ likoodzi yee x̱wsateení yá sitgawsáan. Sigóowu Ḵaax̱gal.aat Yagiyee! Good afternoon everyone. It is really wonderful to see all of you today. Happy Ḵaax̱gal.aat Elizabeth Peratrovich Day!

Kaakasgoox̱ú áyá ax̱ saayí. Naanya.aayí naax̱ x̱at sitee. Peter Stanton ḵa Yáxwchʼ yóo x̱at duwasáakw. Dleit ḵáa ḵa Waashdan Ḵwáan áyá x̱at. My name is Peter Stanton, but people also call me Yáxwchʼ and I carry the name Kaakasgoox̱ú. I am a white American and I am also an adopted member of the Naanya.aayí clan of the Wolf moiety of the Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan.

I am honored to be able to speak to you on this occasion about Ḵaax̱gal.aat Elizabeth Peratrovich and our history here in Lingít Aaní, Tlingit Country. I hope that my words can be helpful and thought-provoking for you. As a history teacher here at Ketchikan High School, I spend a lot of time thinking about haa shagóon, our history here on this land, and I’d like to share just a few of those thoughts with you.

When I spoke here last year, I focused on the world Ḵaax̱gal.aat was born into in 1911, and the enormous transformations and struggles that the Lingít, X̱aadas, Tsmʼsyen, and other Indigenous nations were experiencing at that time. This year, however, I’d like to turn my attention to the history that has happened since that date — the 47 short years that Ḵaax̱gal.aat lived, and 66 years that have passed since her death.

In particular, I’d like to highlight some of the ways in which life was very different for Ḵaax̱gal.aat and Alaska Native people during her time, as well as ways in which their struggles were not so different from struggles Alaska Natives continue to face today.

I asked my students yesterday whether, when Ḵaax̱gal.aat famously spoke to the Alaska Territorial Legislature in 1945, if she would have introduced herself in Lingít and if she would have introduced herself to the legislators with her Lingít name. Right away, they knew the answer was no. My students learned and recognized that at that time, when so many Native leaders were advocating for social integration, civil rights, and equal treatment under the law, that there continued to be intense pressure placed on Alaska Natives to assimilate into American society, and to abandon and shun traditional practices, ceremonies, and their very own languages. But as many of us know, since Ḵaax̱gal.aat’s passing in 1958, there has been an incredible renaissance in Native arts and cultural activities, as well as a strengthening language revitalization movement. However, we should also acknowledge that, during Ḵaax̱gal.aat’s time, even as Indigenous languages and traditional knowledge was suppressed, there were more fluent first-language speakers of Lingít, X̱aad Kíl, Smʼalgyack, and other languages, and there were more elders carrying traditional knowledge that fewer people know today. There has been clear progress since Ḵaax̱gal.aat’s time, but there has also been loss, and we should acknowledge both.

Similarly, when we look at the history of education on this land, we should recognize the incredible work done by Ḵaax̱gal.aat and those of her generation and the ones before — Nettie and Irene Jones, Shgúndi William Paul, and many others — to ensure that Indigenous children would have access to the best education that American society could provide. But, we know that education was one that, at best, deemphasized, and at worst, delegitimized and destroyed, Indigenous identities and traditional knowledge, actively harming Native children. In recent decades, we can see there have been real changes in schools, especially as Native-led organizations have created and provided new educational resources, trained up personnel, and pushed school districts to evolve. But, as educators and families know very well, our school system can often be quite slow and even resistant to change. And, even as we generally succeed in providing equal access to educational opportunities to all of our youth, we know that the outcomes of our educational system remain far from equal. Hence, tribal governments have advocated for their sovereignty to be recognized in providing for their citizens’ education, and Ketchikan Indian Community is one of five tribes in the state of Alaska beginning a new effort to create an independent tribal compact school. I’m excited to see how KIC, KGBSD, and so many educators, advocates, and families will keep investing in visions of success for our youth.

The last topic I’d like to address is this land itself, Lingít Aaní. Throughout Ḵaax̱gal.aat’s life, Indigenous ownership of the land we now call Alaska was entirely unrecognized by the U.S. government. Under U.S. law, canneries had laid claim to large plots alongside salmon streams, prospectors had made mining claims everywhere across the region, and settlers had been entitled to homesteads, all on Lingít Aaní. Meanwhile, Native individuals and families only gained legal title to small plots, if anything. Throughout her life, Ḵaax̱gal.aat witnessed and was part of Alaska Natives’ struggles to receive recognition for their ownership of this land. I don’t know what Ḵaax̱gal.aat’s thoughts, hopes, and expectations might have been, but a few years before she died, in 1955, she would have seen Shgúndi William Paul’s case Tee-Hit-Ton [Teeyhíttaan] Indians v. United States, end in defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court. I can’t imagine she could have expected the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act just 16 years later. If she had only been able to live into her 60s, she could have witnessed that watershed moment. But of course, as all of us should know, ANCSA was not complete in 1971, and it still is not complete over 50 years later. Native people in Haines, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs, Wrangell, and here in Ketchikan have had to continue to fight to be recognized under a law that never should have excluded them. Yet again, while many things have changed, some have stayed the same. And while the U.S. government still does not recognize all Native communities’ land ownership, Native people and their allies will have to keep fighting for justice.

I hope my comments on these topics have helped you consider the historical trajectory of the last 100 years — the conditions and struggles experienced during Elizabeth Peratrovich’s lifetime, and some of the changes and continuities that have happened since her death.

As always, Ḵaax̱gal.aat remains a shining, ever-inspiring example of Indigenous perseverance, ingenuity, courage, and strength. She is the most famous Alaska Native leader of her generation, and deservedly so, but she was not the only one, and she needed supporters, too. Whether you are a leader, a warrior, a supporter, an ally — whatever you want to call yourself — you are needed. We can look back with gratitude on the progress that has been made and the past battles that have been won, but the struggle for true justice and equality in Alaska will continue.

Aatlein gunalchéesh ax̱ xʼeit yeesa.aax̱í. Sigóowu Ḵaax̱gal.aat Yagiyee! Thank you very much for listening to me. Happy Elizabeth Peratrovich Day!

Please feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.



Peter Stanton

I’m an Alaskan history teacher in Ketchikan writing a book on the Tlingit 19th century. I also write regularly about language, reading, travel, and politics.