Aleut International Association

The Aleut International Association (AIA) was formed in September 1998 as a nonprofit organization representing the Aleut people of Russia and Alaska. Spearheaded by the Aleut leader Flore Lekanof in the hopes of giving Aleuts a voice in the international Arctic community, the association reunites a people who have been separated for 200 years since the US purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. The formation of the AIA was realized through the efforts of two separate organizations: the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association in Alaska, a nonprofit consortium of 12 federally recognized tribes living in the Aleutian/Pribilof region, and the Association of Peoples of the North-Aleut District, Kamachatskaya region, a nonprofit organization representing the interests of the Russian Aleuts, most of whom live on the Commander Islands.

The Aleut people are indigenous to the lower Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands of Alaska, which has been occupied by their ancestors for at least 8000 years. During the 1800s, Russian fur traders forcefully relocated many Aleuts to islands that had previously been uninhabited, most notably the Pribilof

Islands and Russia's Commander Islands, to harvest sea mammals for Russian fur traders. Aleuts of the Commander Islands (Bering and Mednyi islands) were subsequently separated from their relatives and homeland with the purchase of Alaska by the United States. The Aleut District of the Kamachatskaya region was established in 1932, and in 1969 the Aleuts of the two Commander Islands were consolidated by the Soviet government to live in the village of Nikolskoye, Bering Island. Aleuts still live there today and face severe economic and social problems, but have no representation in the regional legislature. Those American Aleuts who speak the western dialect of their Native language are still able to communicate with Russian Aleuts 200 years later. A sharing of traditional Aleut songs and dances presumed lost has likewise flowed across the border from Russia.

The purpose of the AIA is to protect the natural resources and the environment of the region surrounding the traditional and modern Aleut homelands, which today are threatened by the influence of the changing Russian and American economies, pollution, military activity, climate change, and the commercial fishing fleets of several nations. The organization also aims to increase the frequency of contact between Russian Aleuts and American Aleuts, reunite relatives from both countries, and provide economic, medical, educational, and technological support where needed.

The AIA is the result of a decade of efforts by Aleut tribal leaders in both countries. Since Aleut people occupy some of the most remote islands in the Northern Hemisphere, communication and organizational hurdles were overcome to bring all Aleuts together and form the AIA. Soon after its creation, AIA became a permanent participant in the Arctic Council, an international environmental council of officials representing eight Arctic nations and four international indigenous peoples. Membership in the Arctic Council provides the AIA with an international forum to address the health of the Bering Sea ecosystem and threats to the Aleut homelands.

Today AIA is working to secure funds for infrastructure, travel throughout the vast Aleutian region, travel for participation in Arctic Council meetings, and to expand the organization. The association has recently written grants to study overfishing, contaminants in the Bering Sea, contaminants in subsistence foods, and health risks in Aleut communities in Russia and Alaska. Research efforts combine scientific data with Aleut traditional knowledge to address economic, social, and health risks to Russian and Alaskan villages, with the ultimate goal of preserving the Aleut way of life for future generations.

The AI A maintains a small office in Anchorage, Alaska, and one in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka. Currently, the organization has a president from St Paul, Alaska, a vice president from Petropavlovsk, Russia, and a secretary/treasurer from Unalaska, Alaska. The organization has a constitution, bylaws, and a five-member board of directors, representing the various tribal groups.

Katherine Reedy-Maschner

See also Aleut; Aleutian Islands; Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association; Arctic Council

Further Reading

Black, Lydia, Atka: An Ethnohistory of the Western Aleutian Islands, Alaska History, No. 24, edited by R.A. Pierce, Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press, 1984 Krivoshapkin, Vladimir, "Who will help the Aleuts of the

Commander Islands?." Arctic Voice, 12 (1996): 21-22 Laughlin, William S., Aleuts: Survivors of the Bering Land

Bridge, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980 Lebedeva, Janna, "The Aleuts' culture on the Komandorskie

Islands may disappear." Northern News, 8(55) (1993): 1-3 Liapunova, R.G., Essays on the Ethnography of the Aleuts (at the end of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century), translated by J. Shelest, Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 1996 Young, O.R., The Arctic Council: making a new era. In International Relations, New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1996

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