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Elizabeth Peratrovich Day Parade an emotional affair

 

Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

Grand marshal Ray Dugaqua leads the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day Parade held on Tuesday.

Rain drops falling upon the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day Parade is nothing new for those who march in it, and this year's honorary grand marshal Ray Dugaqua led the parade through the rain with a mile-wide smile. On Tuesday, Dugaqua buttoned up his red coat and hit the throttle on his motorized wheelchair, proudly followed by a group of just over 25 people.

Peratrovich was a champion for civil rights, long before Martin Luther King took up the fight. She provided crucial testimony and a memorable speech that helped ensure the passage of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945.

For Dugaqua, being the grand marshal was cause to celebrate and an opportunity to interact with youngsters. The local Boy Scout Troop walked in the parade and showed great interest in the purpose of the event, who Peratrovich was and what she contributed to society.

"I am so glad they were full of questions," Dugaqua says with a grin and a chuckle. "I was so happy with the participation of the younger people and the questions that were asked."

Dugaqua attended high school at Mt. Edgecumbe, and has spent most of his life in Alaska. He moved to Petersburg four years ago and lives in the local hospital's Long Term Care unit. He said he cherishes Petersburg because of the wonderful people.

He remembers going to Juneau with his grandparents as a child and seeing signs up in stores that said "No Dogs or Indians Allowed." And he remembers his parents telling him, "You can't go in there. We're not allowed to go in there."

But thankfully the world has changed for the better since his childhood, and having a parade and a day to honor people like Elizabeth Peratrovich means a lot to Dugaqua.

"Every parade is emotional for me," he says.

Barbara Erickson, president of Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), said she was honored to participate in the parade alongside Dugaqua.

"That was the highlight of my parade this year, having him in the parade," she says of Dugaqua. "He is a respected elder that my family knew from back when, and he's just a real blessing to our community. He's like a ray of sunshine."

Erickson, much like Dugaqua, has a strong desire to help younger generations learn about their Native heritage. She is organizing a program to educate kids about Native history because she knows first hand the struggle that comes with failure to identify with a culture at a young age.

"When I grew up I didn't really know what the heck it meant to be Native, other than my mother was a great food preparer," Erickson says.

When it comes to facing discrimination she knows times have changed, and raising awareness of heritage can only help the goal of gaining true equality.

Erickson has a simple message for others to live by, or at least think about: "Just be your best self every day. Smile at your neighbors, lend a helping hand and talk to people," she says. "Keep going on a good path and don't be mean to each other."

 

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