Term Paper: Native Americans the Aleutian Islands

Pages: 9 (2861 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] ' who owned titles and resources, while the commoners, although free, did not. The 'ruling class' did not, however, rule by divine right. Instead:

Inherited chiefly or elite status had to be validated by performance -- leadership of raids to acquire slaves and booty, management of trade and political alliances, and success in organizing food and wealth production by the corporate kin group. Successful 'rich men' organized feasts (potlatches) and ceremonies which served to redistribute goods and enhance personal and group... household size was thereby linked to potential political influence. (Crowell, unpaged)

There were also occupational and ritual classes, which included artists, shamans, whalers and the Alutiiq kas'at, or 'wise men.' The communities supported these specialists, especially the shamans. (Crowell, unpaged)

While the political arrangements did not extend beyond the community, within each community, political structure was organized on the basis of foraging systems. These systems were associated with resource seasonality, requiring strategic division of the harvest effort:

As well as systematic accumulation of food stores to buffer periods of low productivity. This pattern is exemplified by the Alutiiq seasonal round for Kodiak Island ca. A.D. 1790-1805. During the peak harvest months of summer and fall, kin-based households needed to simultaneously exploit a variety of spatially separated resource locales (e.g., seal haulouts, bird rookeries, salmon streams).

While these tasks were carried out from communally organized 'camps,' in winter the population reassembled in the main villages, with kin groups living in large, permanent winter houses.

Wealthy households held fasts to both help those with less and to enhance their own prestige. (Crowell, unpaged)

This may sound idyllic, but in fact, there was another side to the Aleut and Alutiiq way of life, and that concerned depredations by the mainland Indians. (Sipes, unpaged) In 1800, the Russians place the Aleut population at between 6,000 and 8,000. On the other hand, the coastal Indian population numbered between 20,000 and 30,000, and they often made war on the Aleuts, treating their prisoners more horribly than the Russians could imagine. They were brutal to slaves, which they acquired through warfare. And they would often scalp victims, or flay them alive, or wind out their intestines. (Sipes, unpaged)

Brutality was not restricted to captured slaves though, as is displayed by the Kolosh custom of 'sending someone with the chief'. At the leader's death, a group of warriors who had spent their lives fighting with the chief killed the first people they met, even if the unfortunates were of the same tribe. (Sipes, unpaged)

The Russians were also said to have taken slaves, but they were treated much like the serfs at home, and could be punished and even banished, but not killed at will. In fact, in addition to bringing the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russians brought the Povovitel'stv Rossiisko-Amerikanskoi Kompanii in 1799. Eventually, like serfs in Russia, they could gain their freedom. However, recognizing that the Aleuts were the only people capable of hunting fur-bearing creatures in the numbers the company required, the Russians conscripted them. (Sipes, unpaged) So, conceivably, the Russians brought about some lessening of the brutality the Aleut and Alutiiq had to endure

The Scandinavians almost certainly brought a change in attitude to the Aleut and Alutiiq. Norwegian fishermen came to the islands in the early 20th century, bringing with them a slightly different attitude toward sea life, some of which apparently was passed on to the Alutiiq. While the Alutiiq were used to killing and eating virtually any creature of the sea, the Scandinavians did not believe in killing dolphins because those animals "Will lead you to shore through a fog." (Mishler, 198) A Danish fisherman corroborated the sentiment, and Mahler concluded that it was the Scandinavian influence that had stopped dolphin fishing among the Aleut and Alutiiq in the early 20th century. In fact, it had been the Danish navigator, Bering, who had sailed with the Russian fleet and visited the Aleuts in 1741.

The British, who otherwise ignored the islands, arrived in 1778 when Captain Cook mapped them. In the early 1900s, the Scandinavian and some other European whalers and fishing fleets arrived, which, despite the introduction of vaguely environmental ideas like those mentioned above, also began to destroy the native culture. (Planet.org Web site)

And, while the Russians had begun hunting and commerce before 1800, it wasn't until 1825 that Russian Orthodox missionaries joined them to convert the islanders.

They brought diseases along with the Bible, however, and the estimated 12,000 to 23,000 Aleuts when the Russians first arrived had dropped to about 400 by 1840. Today, there are about 2,000 Aleuts living on the island chain. (Planet.org Web site)

The United States bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867, and along with that purchase came the Aleutian Islands. For the first ten years, the U.S. Army administered the islands, but in 1977, the Army was required elsewhere. That meant that the U.S. settlers were left with no authority to "control their excesses." Although the U.S. Navy and U.S. Revenue Service were both resident in Sitka on the mainland and were given the responsibility of maintaining law and order, thee did little more than 'sail-bys.' Indeed, at one point the settlers called on Britain for protection when the U.S. response was to do nothing. Under the Organic Act of 1884, the Aleutian Islands, as part of Alaska, were part of a U.S. District with its own civil and judicial system. In 1912, Alaska became a territory, and in January 1959, it became a state. (Planet.org Web site)

In September 1998, an organization representing the Aleut people, the first indigenous one in more than 178 years, was formed. The purpose of that organization, the Aleut International Association, is:

to protect the natural resources and the environment of the region surrounding the Aleut homelands, which is threatened today by the impact of the Russian economy, pollution, climate change and the commercial fishing fleets of several nations. Formation of the AIA represents the first effort by Aleuts on both sides of the Bering Sea to cooperate on the mutual goal of protecting natural resources vital for the continuation of the Aleut way of life. (AIA Web site)

The organization resulted from more than ten years of effort by the Aleut Tribal leaders in both the U.S. And Russia.

While the AIA begins to take care of the socio-political needs of the Aleut and Alutiiq, the Aleut Corporation is looking after their business future. "It is one of the 13 regional corporations formed under the 1972 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In the settlement, the corporation received $19.5 million and was entitled to 66,000 acres of surface lands and 1.57 million acres of subsurface estate," according to Alaska Business Monthly. The company has land holdings stretching form Point Moller on the Alaskan peninsula to the western tip of Atka Island in the Aleutian chain, which includes also the Shumagin and Pribilof islands. The company has more than 3,000 shareholders and has recently formed subsidiaries to take advantage of the chain's position on the Pacific Great Circle trading routes between the west coasts of the Americas and Asian nations. (Hamilton, unpaged)

Works Cited

Aleut International Association Web site. Retrieved May 10, 2004 at http://www.arctic-council.org/aia.html

Aleutian Islands." Retrieved May 9, 2004 at http://www.planet.org.nz/pacific_action/national/a_b/aleutian.html

Crowell, L. Aron. "Maritime cultures of the Gulf of Alaska." Revista de Arqueologia Americana, July 1, 1999. Retrieved May 9, 2004 from www.highbeam.com.

Diamond, Jared. "Speaking with a single tongue." Discover, February 1, 1993. Retrieved May 10, 2004 from www.highbeam.com.

Hamilton, Vivian. "The Aleut Corporation." Alaska Business Monthly, May 1, 1999. Retrieved May 10, 2004 from www.highbeam.com.

Larkin, Dunton. "Australia and the islands of the sea: Chapter XLIV. Kurile Aleutian and Pribilof islands." History of the World, January 1, 1992.

Mishler, Craig. "Aurcaq: Interruption, distraction, and reversal in an Alutiiq men's dart game." Journal of American Folklore, 110.436 (1997), 198.

Mousalimas, S.A. The transition from Shamanism to Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska. Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1995.

Schurr, Theodore G. "Mitochondrial DNA and the peopling of the New World." American Scientist May 2000: 246. Questia. 10… [END OF PREVIEW]

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