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Alice (Snigaroff) Petrivelli

Photo of Alice (Snigaroff) Petrivelli
19292015
Biography

In 1929 Alice was born in Atka village to Cedor and Agnes (Zaochney) Snigaroff, where she lived a traditional Aleut life. Alice remembered the house always being full because her mother helped raise many other relatives in the village along with her three brothers and a sister.  But that all changed when she was five years old and her mother died, soon after, her two younger brothers also died. Her family became her father, sister, and brother. She was then the youngest in the family and often describes herself as a “tomboy.”

Normally in the village, women and girls, men and boys carried out gender specific tasks in everyday life. Women had tasks like gathering grass to weave baskets, picking greens and berries, and sewing clothes. Men hunted for seals, sea lions, ducks, geese, reindeer, and trapped fox to earn cash. Fishing was usually carried out as a family activity. Of course, the lines were not always that rigid, because the whole family traveled to seasonal camps to carry out some of these activities and Alice was always fond of saying it never felt like work when she was involved in gathering activities since she was outside and she loved being out of the house. Because of her mother’s death, when her father left to trap foxes, she and her sister were left with other relatives, but sometimes, she was able to convince her father to let her come along on the trips to trap on island of Amchitka and at Old Harbor on the north end of Atka Island.

Then in 1942, when she was 12 years old, after Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japan, the United States military relocated Atka families to Killisnoo, an abandoned fish cannery near Angoon in Southeast Alaska, where she lived for two years. Aleuts from eight other villages were also evacuated to other locations in Southeast Alaska. The Atka people were only allowed to pack one suitcase, the night before they left they were told by the Navy to go to their fish camps. During the night they saw flames in the village. When they left the next morning, everyone thought that they whole village had burned, but three houses were left standing one of which was theirs. Those years were very difficult. Alice and the other Aleut people experienced limited food, substandard housing in unheated, abandoned buildings that lacked operating running water, sewer and lighting systems. There were no schools or health care. The transport ship dropped Atkan families at Killisnoo with the suitcase, four days worth of food, and a mattress for each person.

The whole family went to work in a nearby fish cannery, earning money to try to improve their living conditions, eventually getting a boat, guns, nets, and other equipment to fish and hunt for food and saving to buy materials to improve the building they lived in. During the three years Atkan families lived in Killisnoo, 17 of the 88 people died.

Alice stayed at Killisnoo for two years; she had the chance to leave and go to a boarding school in Wrangell and then transferred and graduated from Mt. Edgecombe High School, an Alaska Native Boarding school. Upon graduation from the second graduating class of the school, she returned to Atka for the first time after the war. The rest of the people had returned earlier to the charred remains, except the three homes, which had been stripped to just walls and foundation. They rebuilt the homes, church, school, and a store and tried to return to normal. She spent the summer there and then left to go to the Haskell Institute in Kansas where she received a scholarship and earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration. She returned to Alaska in 1952, and eventually she went to work in Bethel for the Indian Health Service.

There she met and married Frank Petrivelli, who was in the US Army and from Boston, Mass. They raised six children; so Alice devoted herself to family life. They moved around the country, transferred to various military posts, until Frank’s Army retirement in 1969, when they returned to Alaska. Alice and Frank remained married until his death in 1993. He supported her in her efforts to protect her land and Unangan culture and language.

When the family returned to Alaska, Alice started to attend Aleut League meetings and in 1972 found her way to a job as a receptionist for the new Aleut Corporation. Her first job was to review enrollment, which meant assembling the family histories of the people connected to the Aleut villages, so they could know who was eligible to become a shareholder. Thus, her life-long association with the corporation began.

After involvement in the corporate process for four years, she ran for election to the Board of Directors of the Corporation in 1976, with a goal “to protect the land and our culture.”

In 1977, she joined Lillie Hope McGarvey and other Aleut leaders to sue the Corporation management for sending misleading information in a proxy solicitation. In 1979, the lawsuit, McGarvey vs. the Aleut Corporation, was successful and resulted in overturning election results and a new election was held for the board members. [Source: http://www.aleutcorp.com/shareholders/who-we-are/tac=chairs-directors/%5D. For their leadership, Lillie and Alice received the AFN Citizens of the Year Award.

The next effort that Alice engaged in was to seek restitution from the US government for lands that Aleuts were not able to select on Attu after WWII and to secure assistance for the Aleuts relocated by the US government. In all, during WWII 880 Aleut people from nine villages were interned for years in drafty, abandoned fish canneries, in primitive conditions that resulted in the death of about ten percent of them. Those who returned home after the war found their houses and churches destroyed or ransacked, often by the U.S. troops who had lived in them.

The “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians” investigated the five Aleut camps in Southeast Alaska and condemned government “indifference” to “deplorable conditions” there. The official report stated, “The standard of care which the government owes to those within its care was clearly violated by this treatment, which brought great suffering and loss of life to the Aleuts.”

With vigorous support from The Aleut Corporation, in 1988 Congress authorized reparations to the Aleuts, issued a formal apology, and compensated evacuees for land, homes and churches lost because of relocation. Congress adopted the “World War II Reparations Bill” (H.R.422) into law. It provided for a trust fund to be set up to help Aleut survivors and their descendants. $1.4 million was earmarked for restoring churches in six villages as well as lost lands. Finally, the Aleut Corporation was awarded $15 million as compensation for Attu Island, which was occupied by the military after the war and remains closed to its former inhabitants to this day. Alice was the Chair or Vice Chair of the Board of Directors or the President/CEO from 1986 through 1995, so was a key figure in advocating on behalf of Aleut victims of relocation.

Another example of her leadership was one of her first acts as the President/CEO. She led the Board to affirm a contribution to the Aleutian Pribilof Island Associates to undertake production of a video tape history of the internment of Aleut people during World War II. It was later produced in a feature film underwritten by the corporation and other businesses in 2011.

As the President/CEO she led the corporation to stable financial investments and increased earnings, so the corporation established a shareholder permanent fund. Under her leadership the Aleut Corporation was recognized by the Alaska Business Monthly as one of Alaska’s Top 49 businesses in 1995. Increased profits allowed the corporation to make larger contribution for educational scholarships to the Aleut Foundation.

While living in Atka in the 80s, before she was hired as the President/CEO of the Aleut Corporations, Alice was employed as the President of her own village corporation, Atxam Corporation. She also taught Traditional Foods, History, and did Storytelling at the Urban Unangax^ Culture Camp. There she shared traditional family recipes and recipes she learned from watching others as she was growing up. She also passed on traditional values of her people to the students. As a fluent speaker of Unangam Tunuu, she naturally incorporated language into all of her activities.

Alice’s goal was always to help Aleuts recall their Unangan traditions and to also succeed in today’s world. She helped create the Aleut Foundation, nurturing its mission to assist Aleuts achieve educational and cultural goals.

In a video interview in 2001, when asked by Sharon McConnell on the 30th Anniversary of ANCSA, “What do you think the next 30 years are going to hold for ANCSA and the Native people of Alaska?” Alice said,

“I think it will go on for a long, long time because number one, our young people are getting educated. Me, I live in two worlds. During the day when you’re working you live in the Western world, and then you go home and live your own Aleut lifestyle. When I’m home I speak Aleut. Today the young people are more used to the Western culture than they are their Native cultures. They’re educated and sophisticated. They’re learning to negotiate, and they’re learning the aspects of how to do business. That knowledge could still be around for a long, long time.”

She served as a Board member for 30 years and as President/CEO for 6 years. Her life-long goal was always “protecting the land and our culture.”

She also served as the President of the Aleut Foundation and on many other Boards and Commissions, including: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Alaska Native Heritage Center Academy Board, and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Cultural Heritage Advisory Board and was a Commissioner of the Alaska Native Science Commission.

Alice devoted much time to teaching young people about her language, values and culture. But she spent more time mentoring the young Native women who were following her path to the Board of Directors or the management of the Aleut businesses and nonprofit organizations. She also raised and inspired three daughters, four sons and five grandchildren to be involved in their communities.

Alice received the AFN Citizen of the Year Award in 1990 for her continued and effective leadership in her region and her service with the AFN Board of Directors. She has been honored by the Aleut Corporation, the Aleut Foundation, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and by the Elder’s and Youth Conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives. She was a respected Elder in Alaska and passed in 2015.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/CuycfDO6a40

Sources

 

 

 

Notes

Alice Petrivelli will be remembered as a strong advocate for Aleut people. Her fundamental goal was “protecting the land and our culture.”
Born in Atka in 1929, Petrivelli lived a traditional lifestyle, learning from her father after she lost her mother when she was five years old. During WWII, her entire village was relocated to Killisnoo Island in southeastern Alaska and this Aleut relocation experience fueled her efforts to secure  reparations from the United States for the relocation and internment of 881 Aleut people during the war. She attended Wrangell Institute and Mount Edgecombe boarding schools and graduated from Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kans., with an associate’s degree in Business Administration. After college, she met Frank Petrivelli, became an Army wife and raised six children.
The family returned to Alaska in 1969 and Petrivelli started working at the Aleut Corporation in 1972 as a receptionist. One of her duties was to enroll Aleuts in the newly created corporation formed as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Over the next 36 years, she learned the workings of the corporation, eventually becoming the first woman president and CEO from 1990 to 1996.  She was also the longest-serving board member: 1976 until 2008.
As president/CEO Petrivelli directed the corporation toward stable investments and increased earnings; she helped to establish the shareholder permanent fund. Under her  leadership, the Aleut Corporation was recognized by the Alaska Business Monthly in 1995 as one of Alaska’s Top 49 businesses. Petrivelli also was one of the founders of the Aleut Foundation, an organization at the heart of her mission to assist Aleuts with educational and cultural goals.
Petrivelli received numerous awards from the many organizations in which she served and shared her time and talent. She emphasized family, culture and education and inspired her two daughters, four sons and four grandchildren.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/CuycfDO6a40