ALASKA NATIVES OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS
WHO ARE THEY?
Are the inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands Aleuts or are they Unangan? For generations the world has referred to these people as Aleuts; but, is this accurate? Our history books would say yes, but the facts say no.
Thousands of years ago people traveled across an ancient land bridge, called Beringia, from Russian to what is now called Alaska. As this bridge slowly expanded over the years, the natives from Russia moved eastward in their constant search for food. Some of these early people referred to themselves as Unangan. They were sea faring coastal people and they settled along coast lines and lived off the sea. In fact they were known as sea side people.
See www.halgranum.com and discover how a young Alaskan boy discovers the importance of his ancestry when he learns he is Unangan and not Aleut.
Some groups crossing this great bridge were the ancestors of Eskimos living in the Arctic, some were Athabascans who traveled and lived inland, and some turned south to settle the coast lines of Southeast Alaska. Then there were the Unangan who followed the coast line out on to the many islands of the Aleutians. This slow population expansion continued over time until there were about around 15,000 people living on the Aleutian Chain of islands. When this great land bridge slowly descended back into the Bering Sea, the people of Alaska were alone in their new world. They were, however, well equipped to live in the harsh environment of their new home.
Beginning around 1741 the Unangan lives changed dramatically as Russian traders looking for furs found a place teeming with seals and otters and a people who were skilled in the art of hunting them. There was a world wide market for furs, and as a result, the lives of the Unangan were never the same again. They became pawns in the every growing greed of the traders. Their culture and way of life clashed violently with the traders singled minded quest for furs. Eventually the Unangan were enslaved and forced to hunt the otter and seal in return for the safety of their family. Whole sale disregard for their welfare, along with disease decimated their population. Their numbers decreased just as the otters they hunted. The Russian traders called the Unangan, Aleuts, and they have been known as such since that time.
These same inhabitants living in the Aleutian Islands today are proud of their heritage and want to be known today as Unangan. It’s time to honor their request, and refer to them as Unangan.