Culture & History
Aleut Land and Sea
The Aleut Region starts in the east at Sand Point and stretches over a thousand miles along the Aleutian Chain to Attu in the west, and to the Pribilofs to the north. Aleut people have inhabited this part of the world for a long, long, long time and they still do today. The Aleut Region is:
Over 167 named islands in the five major island groups, which are the Fox Islands, Islands of Four Mountains, Andreanof Islands, Rat Islands, Near Islands and the Eastern Islands, south of the Alaska Peninsula. Unimak Island is the eighth largest island in the United States, with Unalaska Island being the thirteenth largest.
The Aleutian Chain is the birth place of the weather and storms that impact the west coast of Canada and the United States. The Aleutian Low will produce the williwaws that come screaming down the narrow valleys and steep cliffs of the Aleutians and Pribilof Islands.
The Aleut Region splits the north western hemisphere creating the Bering Sea to the north and Pacific Ocean to the south. The Pribilof Islands sit in the center of the Bering Sea, which is the richest in the world for sea life and home to the largest Northern Fur Seal rookeries.
The Aleut Region is part of the Ring of Fire, stretching over a thousand miles into the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean. The Aleutians are the birth place for some of the wildest storms known to man. Fish and marine mammals are abundant in the waters surrounding the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands.
The Aleut people in the past and today call this place in the world Home.
The Aleut people live and subsist in one of the harshest and most beautiful parts of the world. They need to have the best clothing, dwellings, transportation and food to survive. And still in the long winter days they manage to play and recreate. The Aleut People and their:
2007 Elder of the Year
In addition to skillfully manufacturing the family clothing from materials of their surroundings, the women made waterproof garments from the intestines of sea mammals. They were called kamleikas and were used by men going to sea, and also used as ceremonial garments; these were of a special design and had colorful ornamentation made from bird feathers, soft animal furs and other dyed materials.
The Aleuts layered their clothing for maximum protection from the harsh elements. The Kamleika or Rain Gear as we call it today is still needed to stay dry in the Aleutians. Rain gear layered with, fleece, wool or polypropylene wear is the choice over animal skins and mammal gut for the Aleut in the Aleutians.
The women were also expert and artful grass weavers, this is confirmed by the preservation of ancient Aleut baskets, sleep mats, wall dividers, hand mitts and foot coverings that have been recovered and are displayed in museums, today. Some of the baskets were woven so tightly that they were able to contain water; this leads us to believe that hand mitts and grass foot coverings were woven tightly enough to repel water, keeping the hands and feet dry.
Their homes were called barabaras which in the very early days were semi-subterranean homes covered by earth and grass with entries through the roof. Some were built large enough to house several families; the larger dwellings were divided by attaching several small rooms to a large group room in the center.
The Aleut people were a communal people, where families usually all lived in one dwelling. Today there is still the closeness amongst family members and the need to be connected, but for the most part, the Aleuts today construct and live in single family wood framed houses.
They were designers and craftsmen of sea vessels called baidarka (Aleut Journey 2005) which are well known for excellent maneuverability over the ocean no matter what weather conditions prevailed.
The one, two or three hatched baidarka would travel for long periods at sea before returning to the shore. They would have to haul out to dry the skin on the baidarka. Each craft was constructed to a specific size to match the aleut paddler. The aleut paddler either knelt or sat while paddling. Historically, it is recorded that if the aleut paddler was appropriately outfitted with a kamleika in a properly constructed baidarka, they could roll completely over in the sea and become upright again without being tossed from the baidarka.
In the last century travel has changed dramatically, after the Baidarka, the dory was a means of sea travel, and today larger boats like the Alaska Marine Highway ferries are the choice and mostly the only way of sea travel in the eastern Aleutians. Freight, as in food, oil and other durable goods is still hauled by boat.
Today air travel is the way the Aleut people move about in the Aleutians and Pribilofs. Reeves Aleutian Airways and Peninsula Airways were the pioneers in air travel in the Aleut Region, and Pen Air today is still transporting Aleuts amongst the Aleut Region villages.
The Aleut people ate their food raw or uncooked, they would not stock pile or harvest food for the winter or for hard times. But they did dry some fish and meats and render mammal fat to go along with the fresh foods they gathered daily. Sea lion was one of the choice marine mammals the Aleuts subsisted on, and the reason they made their camps close to sea lion haul outs. The Aleuts of Akutan hunted whale, hunting whale was most noble of all Aleut hunts and took place for only for the most fearless of the Aleut hunters. Today, substance from the land and sea still is a vital part of the Aleut culture. Fish, as in salmon, halibut, and cod and also crab and shrimp are consumed by the Aleut people in quantity. Caribou and moose are the big game land animals, and birds like ptarmigan, geese and ducks are also subsisted by the Aleuts today. The Aleuts today, still eat the traditional foods of their ancestors.
The Aleut or Unangan (Eastern and Attuan) and Unangas (Atkan or Western) language was spoken by the Unangan/Unangas people before the Russian fur traders and Scandinavian fishermen came to the Aleutians. it wasn't uncommon an Aleut spoke Aleut, Russian and English. But, today english is the language the Aleut people communicate by.
Aleut people have the conveniences of modern dwellings and technology, as well as many other present day amenities. They hold fast to their traditional culture and values by teaching past and present Aleut customs to their descendants so that, they too, can culturally teach and train the following generations.
- The way of our beginning are our ancestors
- Respect and be aware of the Creator in all living things
- Know your family tree relations and people’s history
- Live with and respect the land, sea and all nature
- Always learn and maintain a balance
- Our Language defines who we are and lets us Communicate with one another