Elizabeth Peratrovich biography author visits Bethel on book tour

by K.J. Lincoln

Author and school teacher Annie Boochever came to Bethel as part of her much-anticipated book tour. Bethel was her first stop, thanks to the diligent efforts of Kuskokwim Consortium Librarian Theresa Quiner.

Boochever wrote “Fighter in Velvet Gloves”, a book about the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich. The Kuskokwim Consortium Library hosted the author book talk Friday, September 27th, 2019 for Bethel residents.

Boochever introduced herself in the Tlingit language. She said that there are 24 sounds in Tlingit that are not used in English.

She told the audience that her teacher friends suggested that she write a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich. At the time, Boochever didn’t think that she would be the one to accomplish this.

She said that she found out about Roy Peratrovich Jr. through her niece who knew of some work that Roy was involved in. Roy, who is a certified engineer, is also an esteemed Tlingit artist. At 85 years old he is the only living child of Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich Sr.

So Boochever wrote Roy a letter and he wrote her back. And that is how the idea of writing the book came about, the book about Elizabeth Wannamaker Peratrovich.

Fighter in Velvet Gloves was officially released on February 16, 2019. February 16, 1945 was the date that the anti-discrimination law was signed by the Alaska Territorial Legislature.

Boochever spoke about how Ernst Gruening was the Peratrovich’s “greatest ally” in their fight against racial anti-discrimination. Gruening was the Alaska Territorial Governor from 1939 to 1953 and he was Jewish. He knew what discrimination felt like, she said. Gruening had even asked businesses to take down the loathsome “No Natives” signs, but they said no, said Boochever. The Peratroviches asked him to introduce the Anti-Discrimination Act.

“Only by law, by bills,” said Boochever. “Gruening asked her to fly around the state to advocate for native civil rights.”

So she did. The Peratroviches found another ally in Sheldon B. “Shell” Simmons, a bush pilot. He agreed to take Elizabeth to communities whenever he had a seat available so that she could talk to people. So she flew to many places.

“She went to Deering,” said Boochever. “Folks there still remember that visit.”

Simmons is one of the founders of the airlines that is now today’s Alaska Airlines.

Gruening wrote about Elizabeth in his autobiography and of her heroic testimony before the Alaska Senate. “The side of justice.”

After the law passed, the hated signs came down, but some people still tested it.

“They got arrested and fined,” Boochever said.

On October 5th, 2019, United States Mint (Mint) Chief Administrative Officer Patrick Hernandez unveiled the reverse (tails) design for the 2020 Native American $1 Coin featuring Elizabeth Peratrovich during the Alaska Native Brothers and Alaska Native Sisters Convention at Alaska Pacific University.

“This coin will be a lasting tribute to Elizabeth Peratrovich and her relentless efforts to tear down the wall of discrimination against Alaskan Natives,” said Mr. Hernandez. “We will proudly produce this coin that honors her bravery and determination.”

There was opportunity for the audience to ask questions after Boochever’s presentation. Folks also met and talked with her one on one and took pictures. Copies of her books were available for purchase, which she graciously signed.

“Elizabeth Peratrovich is well celebrated 60 years after her death, her legacy is continuing,” said Boochever.

Boochever continued on with her book tour. Her next stop after Bethel was the up north community of Utqiarvik.