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Art Beat: Put Alaska civil rights hero Elizabeth Peratrovich on the $10 bill

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published July 2, 2015

Put Elizabeth Peratrovich on the $10 bill.

The $10 bill is getting a makeover and Treasury Secretary Jacob "Jack" Lew has announced that he'll pick a woman's image to replace Alexander Hamilton's face on the legal tender. There's a website where the public can chime in,, and there has been no shortage of suggestions.

Among the candidates on the site, I see no one from Alaska. On the eve of her birthday, July 4 (already a major national holiday, by the way), I'm asking Lew to consider Elizabeth Peratrovich for the following reasons:

1. She was a woman. That seems to meet the main criterion.

2. Diversity has been a theme in the campaign to redesign the bill and she was a member of a minority. (As a corollary, all names of figures on the present currency and the best-known replacement candidates so far come from the British Isles or the western rim of Europe. "Peratrovich" would be a notable, even startling, departure.)

3. Not just any minority; she's a Native American, a group typically represented as a symbol -- like the guy on the buffalo nickel or the old Indian-head penny -- rather than as real people. (Though we must note that Pocohantas is on the 1869 $10 bill along with Daniel Webster and King James I of England and Sacagawea is presently part of our currency, but on a coin, not a bill.)

4. Peratrovich's achievement was directly political. Specifically, she made the speech that caused Alaska to pass a civil rights law 20 years before Washington, D.C. got around to it. It had important ramifications for the entire nation and everyone living here. It was not focused on any particular social, ethnic, business or partisan association.

All the figures on today's folding money are either former presidents or cabinet members, officers responsible for the welfare of all. The new face should reflect that kind of responsibility. As the president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, elected by a membership that included both Natives and non-Natives, Peratrovich is in their company. Her office came closer to reflecting the democratic consensus of territorial Alaskans than the legislature or even the governor, who was appointed by the federal government at the time.

The idea of displacing Hamilton has drawn criticism from former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others. Among the men depicted on American notes, Hamilton stands with Washington and Lincoln as someone of whom we can truly say, "He saved the country." His brilliant reorganization of the former colonies' debts following independence reads like a Ponzi scheme to me, but without it the fledgling nation would have washed into the ocean of history on a tide of unpayable bills.

People who originally suggested that a woman be placed on a bill hoped she'd displace Andrew Jackson on the $20. That makes sense. I'm not so concerned about the fact that Jackson owned slaves or was the biggest Indian killer of all American Presidents; judging the past by the standards of the present is a waste of intellectual energy. No, my beef with Old Hickory is that he cratered the economy and sent the country into a depression from which it didn't recover until the Mexican War. Why he's on any public currency having anything to do with rational financial policy is beyond me.

Lew, however, said the face switch would happen with Hamilton because the $10 bill was due for a redesign to thwart counterfeiting. (Really? What reputable counterfeiter wastes time with 10-spots?)

There's a way to make everyone happy. Around 100 years ago, in a round of musical money chairs, Jackson was replaced on the $10 bill by Hamilton, whose spot on the $1,000 note was taken by Grover Cleveland, who had previously occupied the $20 now assumed by Jackson.

If the administration is dead set on keeping the seventh president in place, then we may want to reserve the $10 picture for "Princess" Otahki, aka Nancy Bushyhead Walker Hildebrand, one of the thousands of American Indian women who died on Andy Jackson's Trail of Tears.

Otherwise, I say we put Peratrovich on the $10 bill and, as soon as the much-counterfeited $20 is redesigned, promote Hamilton to that spot.

Have a great Elizabeth Peratrovich's Birthday weekend.

First Friday rambles

The new First Friday Art Walk scene in South Anchorage is continuing to grow from its origins at Northern Made Creations Gift Shop in Huffman Square (1120 Huffman Road). Joining the lineup on July 3 is the Two Fish Gallery, 12001 Industry Way, and Over the Rainbow Toys, 12201 Industry Way (near the post office). Back from last month is the 12-100 Coffee and Communitas coffee and tea house, 12100 Old Seward Highway, and Geri's Beauty Salon, also in Huffman Square, where they'll have free hot dogs right off the grill long with oil paintings by Vikram Chaobal. Northern Made Creations will show ceramic work by Shannon Browns and hold a drawing for a pair of gold nugget earrings. The old country and blues duet of Stephanie and Scott Feris, aka Nikki and Fingers, will perform and there'll be gold panning for $12, a fundraiser for the Mother Lawrence Foundation. Two Fish will have European pastries and Over the Rainbow will hold a free "make-and-take" session with sculpting medium called Playmai, said to be eco-friendly. Aside from the gold panning, the event is all free, 5-8 p.m.

Krogh wins piping competition

Where but Anchorage can one attend both Yup'ik dancing and a bagpipe contest on the same day? The 2015 Alaska Scottish Highland Games Piobaireachd Competition took place on June 26 at Wilda Marston Theatre. This was the solo, formal, "art music" part of the pipe-offs, which included trio and band competitions as well, and I found it fascinating. Samuel Peyps famously called it "mighty barbarous music," and some in the audience -- even some of the performers -- were seen wearing ear plugs due to the high decibel level, which ranks with a chain saw. Nonetheless it has a powerful meditative component and sophistication that takes a little listening to catch on to.

The pipers typically adjust tuning and "settle the instrument down" for a couple of minutes before they start with their contest music; it can be hard to know where the main tune begins. And phrases are played over and over again, sometimes with little variation. "The music lives in the repetition of the notes," said judge Ian Whitelaw. The main ground is typically very slow, adorned by rapid finger flourishes. And the player walks silently while performing, no easy trick in hard-heel shoes that clack when one walks normally.

Titles on the program included "Lament for the Viscount of Dundee" and "Wrath for Squinting Patrick." In the Grade IV (novice) category Jack DeCouso won with his performance of "Massacre of Glencoe." Brady Byers took first place in the Grade III division with "Cabar Feidh Gu Brath" ("The Deer's Antler's Forever," a regimental tune based on a war cry, I'm told). Teddy Krogh took top honors in the Professional division with "End of the Great Bridge."

"He had a lovely pipe," said Whitelaw, "and good technique going from variation to variation."

What I'll long remember is how Krogh performed a slow pivot so smoothly that I could barely tell his feet were moving.

The pipes have an unfortunate reputation, Whitelaw conceded, in part because they are often presented with intentional barbarity. "Other instruments are more self-policing," he said. "You will never hear someone on television play a violin out of tune or play a piano that's out of tune. But there are a lot of people playing bagpipes in public who have no business doing it."

It was refreshing, therefore, to hear pros play the instrument. While people tend to find unfamiliar art forms monotonous -- jazz, string quartets, Yup'ik dancing -- they tend to have their own beauties and rewards, or else people wouldn't keep doing them. It falls on the listener to decide whether he will be patient and open enough, as Whitelaw put it, "to let the music find that place inside that tickles you."