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Unangax & Sugpiaq Alaska
Photo credit: Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
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Unangax̂ & Sugpiaq

Unangax̂ & Sugpiaq

These two cultures are found in Southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Unangax̂ (Oo-nun-gahx) settlements are in the Aleutian Island Chain and Pribilof Islands, and Sugpiaq (Soog-pyack) are associated with Kodiak Island and Prince William Sound. The Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq lived a maritime existence and depended upon the sea for their survival. In the 18th century, Russians came to 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 Unangax̂ speak Unangam Tunuu and Sugpiaq speak Sugcestun.

Russian traders used the word Aleut to describe the people of Southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Islands; Alutiiq is the Alaska Native pronunciation. Today, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak shares the living language, traditions, stories and history and is a wonderful starting point for information on Southwest Alaska's Native cultures. 

The Unangax̂ 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, in particular to the 1,300-mile-long Aleutian archipelago.

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

Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq 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.

Learn more about Alaska Native Culture.

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