Alutiit

Alutiit, or Sugpiat, are the indigenous people of Prince William Sound, the eastern Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and portions of the lower Alaska Peninsula. Russian colonizers called both the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands and the Alutiit "Aleuts," thinking they were the same people as sea mammal hunters of Kamchatka who were called Aliutors. After almost 100 years of Russian rule, Alutiit called themselves Aleuts. Kodiak Island Alutiit are also called Koniag, derived from the term Kanaagin used by their Unangan enemies and trading partners. Alutiit of the Prince William Sound area are also called Chugachmiut. Anthropologists coined the term Pacific Eskimo in the 20th century to indicate Alutiiq linguistic and cultural ties to Yupiit (singular Yup'ik) and other Eskimo peoples. Alutiit considered the term insulting or at best strange. This led to the adoption of "Alutiiq" (plural Alutiit) as an alternative designation. Alutiit leaders suggested a return to the traditional self-designation Sugpiat in the 1980s or 1990s, but so far Alutiiq (Alutiit) remains the most common appellation for the people (Pullar, 1996).

Alutiiq lands spread from Ivanof Bay (55°54' N 159°29' W) on the Alaska Peninsula to Cordova (60° 33' N 145° 45' W) in Prince William Sound, and south to the village of Akhiok (56° 56' N 154° 10' W) on Kodiak Island. On the Alaska Peninsula, current Alutiiq communities include Perryville, Ivanof Bay, Chignik Lake, Chignik Lagoon, and Chignik Bay. In addition to the city of Kodiak, Kodiak area Native villages are Karluk, Akhiok, Larsen Bay, Port Lions, Old Harbor, and Ouzinkie. In the Chugachmiut region of Prince William Sound are Chenega Bay, Tatitlek, and the cities of Cordova and Valdez. Nanwalek (English Bay) and Port Graham are on the lower Kenai Peninsula; the nearby city of Seward also has some Alutiiq population. Port Graham and Nanwalek may formerly have been part of a separate group of Alutiit on the Kenai Peninsula that extended through much of Cook Inlet before colonization. Their regional name is Unegkurmiut.

The smallest village in the Alutiiq region had 22 residents in 2000, contrasting with around 200 Native inhabitants in the larger villages and 660 Alutiit in the city of Kodiak (ADCED, c.2000). The cities of Kodiak, Seward, Valdez, and Cordova have 10-15% Native residents (ADCED, c.2000). The total Alutiiq population at the 2000 census totaled approximately 3000 in the above communities, although possible confusion between the terms Aleut and Eskimo and the definition of mixed-race individuals may under-represent Alutiit. Many more Alutiit reside in other parts of Alaska and in other states. The membership of the Koniag and Chugach regional corporations includes 5300 Alutiit, with an undetermined number of Alutiit also members of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (which also has Yup'ik shareholders). These figures suggest that there are more than 6000 people of Alutiiq heritage, since not all Alutiit are corporation shareholders under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

Archaeological evidence indicates that Alutiit have lived on the Pacific coast for the past 7000 years or more. Yup'ik Eskimos likely settled on this portion of southern Alaska and picked up elements of both Aleut and Northwest Coast Indian cultures over time. The relatively warm maritime climate and abundance of salmon and a wide variety of other resources allowed the development of large settlements and a high degree of cultural complexity. Along with a relatively high population density came social ranking, with classes from nobles to slaves. Precontact populations were likely many times the current levels, and have been estimated by archaeologists to be between 8000 and 30,000 on Kodiak Island and the adjacent Alaska Peninsula villages (Clark, 1984). Estimates for 1800 gauge all Alutiiq Natives to have numbered 6000. A smallpox epidemic in the 1830s cut the population to 3000, close to those counted in the first US census in 1880 (Clark, 1984).

Over time there has been much exchange between Alutiiq communities. Traditionally, villages traded, raided, and intermarried with each other in addition to contact and warfare with Eyak, Tlingit, Tanaina, and Unangan neighbors. Since contact, dozens of villages have been abandoned due to natural disasters, epidemics, and population decline. Others moved or consolidated. A few communities are very old. Karluk, perched on the edge of Kodiak Island's most productive salmon run, is built nearly on top of successive village sites dating back several thousand years.

Patterns of life were changed markedly with the arrival of Russian fur traders in the region in the 1780s. After initial resistance, the invaders won a victory at a "refuge rock" on the east side of Kodiak Island, where Alutiit had been hiding. As many as 500 Natives may have perished, bringing Alutiiq resistance to Russian force to an end. The Russians took hostages and, this together with the threat of force, were able to keep Alutiit in a state of servitude. Villages were divided into work groups, with the mutual goal of providing as many high-quality furs as possible for the lucrative China trade. Lack of provisioning from Russia necessitated the production of dried salmon, whale meat, and the ricelike rhizomes of the chocolate lily, Fritillaria camschatcensis, to feed both Russians and their indentured hunters. Many of the best hunters traveled in groups as far as California in pursuit of luxurious sea otter pelts, leaving the less able at home to trap fox, pursue sea mammals, birds, and other game as best as they could. Women were also employed in sewing waterproof kamleikas, the gut rain parkas worn by hunters and adopted by Russians.

Subsistence activities are still vitally important both economically and culturally in Alutiiq communities. Salmon makes up the largest portion of the subsistence take. Other types of fish (primarily halibut) and game (caribou, moose, and deer) are second to salmon, with marine mammals, birds, eggs, marine invertebrates, and wild plants used to a lesser extent (Fall and Walker, 1993). Alutiit traditionally fished and hunted sea mammals, including whales from baidarkas (the Aleut-type kayak). Brown bear was an important quarry of hunters in the past, but few Alutiit now have a taste for the meat. Black bear is still used in the Chugach region. Reliance on country foods varies considerably, depending upon access to employment (cash income) and stores. Ivanof Bay, the community with the fewest available jobs and services such as inexpensive freight, had a per capita harvest of 490 pounds of wild game, fish, and vegetable products in 1989. Communities in the region averaged around 300 pounds of subsistence foods harvested per person as calculated for the most representative year between 1982 and 1997 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G, 2000).

Alutiiq villages have participated in the commercial fisheries since they were established in Alaska, both as fishers and in processing. The mass production of salted and dried salmon (youkala) under the Russians led to the establishment of commercial salteries around the region, but they were not successful. The first salmon cannery in the region was sited at Karluk in 1882 (Roppel, 1994). Salmon processors and herring oil reduction plants were spread widely across the region in the 20th century until market forces and improved transportation shut down all but the largest and most modern plants. Present fish processing ventures are located in Chignik Lagoon, and the cities of Kodiak, Seward, and Cordova. While canneries operated near Native communities, whole villages would move seasonally to the vicinity. Most men fished and women worked in the plants along with imported laborers.

Currently, salmon, halibut, herring, crab, and cod are harvested commercially from most Alutiiq communities. Income from commercial fishing varies significantly between the villages and years, falling significantly in recent years mostly due to weak markets. In 2000, village per capita income generated by operation of fishing vessels ranged from approximately $41,000 in salmon-rich Chignik and $6559 in Old Harbor, to nothing in Karluk, where there are no longer any vessel operators (CFEC, 2001; ADCED, c.2000). In the villages with significant catches, there are large disparities between families with fishing income and those without.

As the fisheries decline, a growing number of Alutiiq individuals, villages, and corporations are developing ecotourism and sport fishing and hunting outfitting ventures. Government and Native organization offices provide a few jobs, and most villages have at least a small store that hires workers. In general, men are more interested in subsistence, commercial fishing, or outdoor guiding activities, whereas there is little interesting or high-paying work available to women in small communities.

Sea mammal hunting, under pressure from government regulation and declining stocks, no longer holds the importance to subsistence it once did. Seals and sea lions are still hunted on occasion. The highly developed whale hunting technology declined after the Russians forcibly redirected Alutiiq hunting efforts to sea otters. Whales were hunted from baidarkas with ground slate lances poisoned with an aconite extract from the root of monkshood (Aconitum delphinifoli-um). The whales were not pursued after being speared, but washed ashore after several days. Whale and seal oil were burned in stone lamps and provided a main source of light and heat.

Whales figured prominently in Alutiiq cosmology, and are featured subjects of petroglyphs on Kodiak Island. These may be related to Aleut whaling cults. Other aspects of ceremonialism, including seasonal festivals and masks, resemble those of Bristol Bay and Bering Sea coast Yupiit (Fitzhugh, 1988). Most ceremonial activities were held in the kashim (men's house) and included memorial feasts, potlatches, and whaling ceremonies. The kashim was a large version of the barabara, a semisubterranean house supported with driftwood and covered in sod in which people lived. Ordinary barabaras housed about 20 people, typically constructed with a large central cooking and gathering room and smaller private family rooms and a steam bath (magiwek) off to the sides. A large settlement might have as many as ten of the structures. Families were matrilocal, several sisters often sharing a house.

Chiefs (anayugak), who were the richest men and owners of the kashim, would lead one or more villages. Shamans could be either men or women. They predicted the weather, divined times for hunting and other activities, dealt with the spirit world, and brokered human disputes through supernatural means using dolls and other objects. (Some shamanism has continued underground in living memory.) Women were generally the midwives and healers and employed bloodletting, herbalism, and other methods. Most men and women wore labrets or lip piercings, the value of which may have indicated rank. Women tattooed their faces.

Russian Orthodox priests arrived soon after fur traders in Alutiiq country. Most families adopted Orthodoxy, since Russian priests often provided the only relief the people had from cruel treatment by the fur traders, and the doctrine was flexible enough to incorporate some indigenous cosmology. All of the Alutiiq villages except Ivanof Bay still have Russian churches, although few have resident priests. After Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867, Kodiak became the site of a large Baptist mission. Although the majority of Alutiit still practice Orthodoxy over other religions, other Christian churches have some followers.

A relatively new influence on Alutiiq life is the corporate system put in place by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. The Alutiiq culture region was split between three Native corporations (see above), each responsible for managing their own lands and resources. Each village also has a tribal council with a separate relationship to the federal government, and a tribal or municipal relationship to state and borough governments. These divisions must be overcome in order for the Alutiiq people to unite in supporting their heritage.

The Alutiiq language (also called Sugcestun) flourishes in Nanwalek, where all children learn it in school. Other districts have had less success in obtaining support for native language curriculum, and only a handful of fluent speakers survive in these communities. Revitalization of Alutiiq culture is being expressed in a number of ways, including regular performances of Alutiiq dance groups, the establishment of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak in 1995, and artists producing masks and other media.

Deborah B. Robinson

See also Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA); Alaska Peninsula; Aleut; Eskimo-Aleut languages; Kenai Peninsula; Kodiak Island; Shamanism; Yupiit

Further Reading

ADCED, Alaska Community Database: Detailed Community Information, Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, c.2000; website: http://www.dced. state.ak.us/mra/CF_BLOCK.cfm ADF & G, Community Profile Database, Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 2000; website: http://www.state.ak.us/adfg/subsist/geninfo/publctns/ cpdb.htm

Bray, Tamara L. & Thomas W. Killion (editors), Reckoning with the Dead: The Larsen Bay Repatriation and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994

CFEC, Alaska Limited Entry Commission Fishing Statistics, Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission; website: http://www.cfec.state.ak.us/mnu_Limitations.htm Chaussonnet, Valerie (editor), Crossroads Alaska: Native Cultures of Alaska and Siberia, Washington, District of Columbia: Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995

Chugach, History and Culture, Chugach Alaska Corporation, 2001; website: http://www.chugach-ak.com/history main.html

Clark, Donald W., Koniag Prehistory: Archaeological Investigations at Late Prehistoric Sites on Kodiak Island, Alaska, Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1974

-, "Pacific Eskimo: Historical Ethnography." In

Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 5, Arctic, edited by David Damas, Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution, 1984 Fall, James A. & Robert J. Walker, "Subsistence Harvests in Six Kodiak Island Borough Communities, 1986," Juneau, Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department. of Fish and Game, 1993

Fitzhugh, William W., "Eskimos: Hunters of the Frozen Coasts." In Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska, edited by William W. Fitzhugh & Aron Crowell, Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988

-, (editor), Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska, Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988 Koniag, About Koniag [www], Koniag Incorporated, 2001;

website: http://www.koniag.com/ Maschner, Herbert D.G., "Raid, retreat, defend (repeat): the archaeology and ethnohistory of warfare on the North Pacific Rim." Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17(1) (1998): 19-51 Moss, Madonna L. & Jon M. Erlandson (editors), Maritime Cultures of Southern Alaska: Papers in Honor of Richard H. Jordan, Volume 29, No. 2, Arctic Anthropology, edited by Richard Condon, Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992 Pullar, Gordon L., Aleut. In Encyclopedia of North American Indians, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996

Roppel, Patricia, Salmon from Kodiak: An History of the Salmon Fishery of Kodiak Island, Alaska, Anchorage: Alaska Historical Commission Studies in History No. 216, 1994

Yaw-Davis, Nancy, "Contemporary Pacific Eskimo." In Handbook of North American Indians, edited by David Damas, Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984

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