Haines School kindergarteners sing the “Peratrovich Rap.” Deb Kemp from ANS came to school for two sessions over the course of two weeks to sew vests with third and fourth grade students. The kids used needle and thread to sew on other felted formline designs. Students made their own looms out of cardboard and used yarn to make coasters and wall hangings. Natalie Helms photo.

Students commemorated the life and work of civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich with song, dance, acting and speeches at Haines School Thursday.

“When I was a little girl, there was a woman named Elizabeth Peratrovich who made everything a little better,” said Marilyn Wilson, vice president of Haines’ chapter of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

Peratrovich was an integral part in the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, which ended segregation and aimed to prevent discrimination against Alaska Natives.

Wilson said Peratrovich made a big impact on the legislature when she spoke on behalf of Native people. “It really swayed the vote,” she said.

Students in grades 3-5 performed a Tlingit song and dance for a full school assembly in Karl Ward Gymnasium, led by members of the Deishu Dancers. Native artist Wayne Price attended the assembly. He designed the eagle and raven emblem on the back of the dancers’ vests.

Assembly organizer Natalie Benassi said the students traced and sewed the emblems on the regalia, which also included a headband, and were engaged and excited about the process.

Students in kindergarten through second grade sang the “Peratrovich Rap,” a song highlighting the civil rights leader’s life, written by Mary Folletti of Haines.

Four members of the High School Drama, Debate and Forensics team also recited a readers’ theater piece with the exact language from the 1945 state senate floor debate on the bill.

Wilson said events like the one at the school teach students to speak out.

“I want to thank Elizabeth Peratrovich for saying that I can go into the restaurants, I can be part of the community, I can be in the Legislature. So, dream big,” she said. “You can make a difference in your community also.”