“Several thousand years ago, before European explorers discovered the shores of the Aleutian Islands, they were inhabited by the Aleut Unangan people.
Rough, windy seas surround the remote, rocky, majestically beautiful, volcanic islands; inhabitants who live there experience some of the most inclement weather in the world.
Despite the tempestuous surroundings, the aleut people adapted to the environment and became excellent navigators of the sea, skillfully harvesting its unlimited bounties as their main livelihood.
Russian explorers commanded by Danish explorer, Vitus Bering and German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller on September 5, 1741 on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands, “Americans” appeared and a first contact between the Russian expedition and these people occurred.
It was estimated that there were as many as 20,000 Unangas spread out in hundreds of small villages throughout the sheltered harbors of the Islands. For Fifty years and more the Russian Fur Traders came set up camps all along the Aleutian Chain.
The Aleuts hunted the sea otter for the Russian fur traders. During this time the Aleut craftsmen designed the three-hatched baidarka, this was to accommodate an extra hunter to hunt sea otters. During this time period the Aleut people were decimated by diseases brought by the Russian Fur Traders and over 80% of the Aleuts died.
In the early 1800’s it is estimated that the population of the Aleuts at around 1200. During the 1800’s the Aleuts hunted furs for the Russian fur traders. They still used baidarkas, lived in barabaras and wore their traditional clothing.
But during this time period the Aleut people were adapting to the Russian and Scandinavian customs. In the late 1800’s Scandinavian fishermen, fox farms and miners started to call the Aleutians home. In the early 1900’s commercial fishing started to grow in the Aleutians. Salmon and cod fish were the species harvested in the early 1900’s. In 1912 Alaska becomes a territory of the United States.
In 1942 the Japanese captured Attu and Kiska and conducted bombing raids on Unalaska. During the war the Aleut people in the towns west of King Cove were evacuated and put in camps in south east Alaska.
After the war some of the Aleut people returned to the Aleutians to live, they commercial fished to support their families. The Pribilof Aleuts still harvested the Northern Fur Seal. The 1960’s and 70’s brought nuclear testing to the Aleutians on the island of Amchitka.
In 1971 the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passed and The Aleut Corporation was formed by the people of the Aleutians.
1985 brought the end of the Pribilof seal harvest, the Aleuts in the Pribilofs built small boat harbors and began enticing fish processors to the Pribilofs to process crab and halibut.
In the 1990’s Adak, a naval base began to shut down and relinquish the buildings to The Aleut Corporation.
Presently, one third of Aleut people reside in the Aleutians, one third reside in Anchorage and the other third are scattered throughout the lower 48 states.”
-Text copyright of the The Aleut Corporation