Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pacific Coast Native Americans by Louis Choris (1795-1828)

Louis Choris (1795-1828) Aleut paddling a baidarka, with an anchored Russian ship in the background, near Saint Paul Island, 1817. At sea, Aleut men wore wooden hunting hats. The shape of the headgear indicated a man's rank; a short visor was worn by the young & inexperienced hunters, an elongated visor by the rank-&-file, & open-crown long-visor hats by important mature men. 

Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, & a number of Northern Athabasca cultures. Alaskan natives in Alaska number about 119,241 (as of the 2000 census). There are 229 federally recognized Alaskan villages & 5 unrecognized Tlingit Alaskan Indian tribes.

Stretching like a rocky necklace from Asian to North America, the Aleutian Islands & the nearby Alaska Peninsula are the home of the Aleuts. The term "Aleut" was introduced by Russians & comes originally from the Koryak or Chukchi languages of Siberia; it appears to have been quickly adopted by the Aleut people themselves.

Aleut comes from the Russian word Aleuty. The Aleut, are known as Unangan or Unangas in their language, which translates as “we the people.” Aleut homelands include the Aleutian Islands, the Pribilof Islands, the Shumagin Islands, & the far western part of the Alaska Peninsula. The natural marine environment defines subsistence lifestyles & cultures that date back more than 8,000 years ago.

The Aleuts & the Alutiiq differ in language & culture but a commonality was created from the first contact with the Russians in the 18C that is evident today. The Aleut are expert boat builders & sailors & are well known for their kayaks. They are also known for their very fine baskets. The Aleut language, Unangax, also derives from the Esk-Aleut family.

Aleut settlements were, as a rule, located on bays where there was a good gravel beach for landing skin-covered watercraft. Village locations on necks between 2 bays were preferred, as such locations provided at least one protected landing for any given wind direction & served as an escape route in the event of enemy attack. A good supply of fresh water nearby was a necessity, as a good salmon stream was indispensable; other considerations were availability of driftwood & access to stone materials suitable for tool- & weapon-making & mineral paints, sea mammal hauling grounds, & an elevated lookout post from which one could watch for enemies & whales. 

Aleut society was ranked, with hereditary classes of high nobles, commoners, & slaves. The leaders were recruited from the high nobles or the chiefly elite. This ranking was reflected in allocation of living space within the longhouse & in burials. The "east" & the "above" were the sacred dimensions associated with the creator - Agugux. At dawn Aleut men emerged on the rooftops of their houses & faced the east to greet the day & "swallow light." 

After the arrival of missionaries in the late 18C, many Aleuts became Christian by joining the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the earliest Christian martyrs in North America was Saint Peter the Aleut. In 18C, Russian furriers established settlements on the islands & exploited the people.There was a recorded revolt against Russian workers in Amchitka in 1784. It started from the exhaustion of necessities that the Russians provided to local people in return for furs they had made.

In 1811, in order to obtain more of the now commercially valuable otter pelts, a party of Aleut hunters traveled to the coastal island of San Nicolas, near the Alta California-Baja California border. The locally resident Nicoleño nation sought a payment from the Aleut hunters for the large number of otters being killed in the area. Disagreement arose, turning violent; in the ensuing battle nearly all Nicoleño men were killed. This, along with European diseases, so impacted the Nicoleños, that by 1853, only one living Nicoleña person remained. 

Prior to major influence from outside, there were approximately 25,000 Aleuts on the archipelago. Barbarities by outside corporations & foreign diseases soon reduced the population to less than 1/10 this number, The 1910 Census count showed 1,491 Aleuts. In the 2000 Census, 11,941 people reported they were of Aleut ancestry; nearly 17,000 said Aleuts were among their ancestors.  Alaskans generally recognize the Russian occupation left no full-blooded Aleuts. When Alaska Natives enrolled in their regional corporations under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), the Aleut Corporation attracted only about 2,000 enrollees who could prove a blood quantum of 1/4 or more Alaska Native (including Aleut).