Aleut & Alutiiq

The two cultures are found in Southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Two Aleut (AL-ee-oot) settlements are in the Pribilof Islands, and Alutiiqs (a-LOO-ticks) are associated with Kodiak Island. The Aleuts and Alutiiq lived a maritime existence and depended upon the sea for their survival. In the 18th century, Russians came to Aleut and Alutiiq land, and the population was forever changed. Today the Russian influence on their way of life remains, and the Russian Orthodox Church plays a large part in their lives. The Aleuts and Alutiiq have two languages, Unangax and Sugcestun.

The Aleuts were relative newcomers to Alaska, settling approximately 3,000 years ago-still millennia before the first Europeans arrived. They migrated to the southern and southwestern parts of the state, and in particular to the 1,300-mile-long archipelago that was later named for them.

Water determined their way of life. Their food came mainly from the ocean and rivers; their clothing, made of tightly-sewn skin, had to be waterproof.

Aleuts lived in oblong, semi-subterranean houses made with wooden or whale bone rafters covered with grass. The entrances were holes in the roofs with ladders. Settlements were typically coastal villages, ideally with gravelly beaches well suited to landing boats. They traveled in qayaqs, (baidarkas, in Russian), or in large skin boats called angyaqs, or baidars.

Aleut men wore elaborate hunting costumes designed, in part, to honor the spirits of the animals. Fur tassels, feathers and beads ornamented his skin kamleika, or robe. The shape of his wooden hat indicated a man's status, and sea lion whiskers attested to his hunting prowess.