The Aleutians are a chain of small islands that separate the Bering Sea (north) from the main portion of the Pacific Ocean (south) and extend in an arc southwest, then northwest, for about 1,100 miles (1,800 km) from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula to Attu Island, Alaska, U.S. The archipelago consists of 14 large islands, some 55 smaller islands, and innumerable islets, all of which occupy a land area of 6,821 square miles (17,666 square km) and are part of the U.S. state of Alaska. The major island groups from east to west are the Fox Islands, the Islands of the Four Mountains, and the Andreanof, Rat, and Near islands. The Komandor Islands near the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia) are geographically part of the Aleutians.The Aleutian Islands form a segment of the Circum-Pacific chain of volcanoes (often called the Ring of Fire) and represent a partially submerged continuation of Alaska's Aleutian Range. Most of the islands bear marks of volcanic origin; some volcanoes remain active. The shores are rocky and worn by the surf, and the approaches are dangerous; the land rises abruptly from the coasts to steep, bold mountains. The main navigational lanes through the chain are the Unimak, Umnak, Amukta, and Seguam passes.Characterized by fairly uniform temperatures, high winds, heavy rainfall, and persistent fog, the Aleutians are practically devoid of trees but are covered with a luxuriant growth of grasses, sedges, and many flowering plants. The Aleutian Islands unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge covers 4,250 square miles (11,000 square km) and extends between Unimak (east) and Attu (west) islands. By regulating the numbers of wildlife (notably sea otters and seals), the refuge has eliminated the threat of starvation to the native Aleuts, who have always lived by fishing and hunting. The raising of blue foxes has furnished employment for many.The Aleuts (/əˈljuːt, ˈæl.juːt/; 1 Russian: Алеуты, romanized: Aleuty), who are usually known in the Aleut language by the endonyms Unangan (eastern dialect), Unangas (western dialect),2 Унаӈан (lit. 'people', singular is Unangax̂ 2), are the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands. 1Today both the Aleut people and the islands are divided between the US state of Alaska and the Russian administrative division of Kamchatka Krai. The religion practiced amongs the Aleut peoples is that of Eastern Orthodoxy (Russian Orthodox Church) and/or Animism. The languages spoken are English, Russian, or Aleut.The Aleuts are native to the Aleutian Islands and western portion of the Alaska Peninsula of northwest North America. Aleuts speak three mutually intelligible dialects and are closely related to the Eskimo in language, race, and culture. The earliest people, the Paleo-Aleuts, arrived in the Aleutian Islands from the Alaskan mainland about 2000 BC. Other studies suggest the Aleuts inhabited this area for over 9,000 years.The Aleuts hunted seals, sea otters, whales, sea lions, sometimes walrus, and, in some areas, caribou and bears. Fish, birds, and mollusks were also taken. One-man and two-man skin boats known as bidarkas, or kayaks, and large, open, skin boats (Eskimo umiaks) were used. Aleut women wove fine grass basketry; stone, bone, and ivory were also worked.Ancient Aleut villages were situated on the seashore near fresh water, with a good landing for boats and in a position safe from surprise attack from other Aleuts or neighboring tribes. After the arrival of the Russians in the 18th and 19th centuries, internal warfare ceased, and villages were located at river mouths, where salmon were caught in the annual salmon runs. Villages were usually composed of related families. A chief might govern several villages or an island, but there was no chief over all Aleuts or even over several islands.In 1741 the Russians sent out Vitus Bering, a Dane, and Aleksey Chirikov, a Russian, on a voyage of discovery. After their ships parted in a storm, Chirikov discovered several of the eastern islands, while Bering discovered several of the western islands. Upon learning of the abundance of fur-bearing animals, Siberian hunters flocked to the Komandor Islands and gradually moved eastward across the Aleutians to the mainland. In this manner, Russia gained a foothold in North America but nearly caused the extinction of the Aleuts as a consequence of slaughter and enslavement. Russia sold the islands, along with the rest of Alaska, to the United States in 1867. A chart of the coast line was prepared by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey office, and a stock of Blue Foxes were placed on several of the islands to provide the native Aleuts with a means of livelihood.The main settlements are on Unalaska and Adak islands. The oldest and largest, settled 1760-75, is Unalaska, the former headquarters of a large U.S. Coast Guard fleet that patrolled the sealing grounds of the Pribilof Islands to the north. The next largest settlement, Adak Station, was the site of a naval station established in 1942. Shemya was the site of a WWII U. S. Army Air Force base, and later became a U.S. Air Force installation as well as a one-time support base for Northwest Airlines. Attu was home to a Coast Guard contingency providing LORAN navaids.The Aleut population declined drastically under Russian domination. When the Russians first arrived, there were about 25,000 Aleuts, but by the end of the 20th century they numbered only about 2,000. By the 1830s their traditional way of life was disrupted, and only vestiges have survived.In 1942 the Japanese invaded and occupied Attu and Kiska islands, relocating and interning the inhabitants as prisoners of war in Japan. A year later, May of 1942, after 19 days of battle, the United States recaptured Attu.During the Cold War the military stations on the Aleutian Islands were vital links in the strategic defense of the North American continent. The Aleut population during the 1990 census was 11,942.For a very good presentation of the Aleut peoples leading up to and after WWII, you'll want to view the DVD "Aleut Story." Visit http://www.aleutstory.tv/ for additional information.
Current Update: 14 Nov 2021 1158Last Updated: 04 January 2013Originally published 5 April 2001
Sources:1.Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.2."Unangam Tunuu/Aleut," Archived February 9, 2018, at the Wayback Machine Alaska Native Language Center.3.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleut4.Copyright 1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica
Notes: 1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_NativesAlaska Natives or Alaskan Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States and include: Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. They are often defined by their language groups. Many Alaska Natives are enrolled in federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entities, who in turn belong to 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, who administer land and financial claims.2.As cultures change, naming conventions often change as well. And so it is with the Aleut peoples along with other Native American peoples…as well as with many citizens occupying the North American Continent. As individual’s sensitivities change, the trend is to be offended by just about anything that doesn’t fit with their life-styles or identify themselves in a perceived positive way. The use of the term “Aleut” extends from WWII, and didn’t take into account tribal sensitivities or their actual relationships or associations. Therefore, as with continued enlightenment and understandings, you will find replacement terms for Aleut to be present in many of today’s recorded documentation or material. For example: “Aleut” is also an “Inuit.” Click HERE to view additional information about the “Aleuts.” As with ongoing cultural changes…there will be disagreement as well as agreements with such changes.