The Alutiiq / Sugpiaq People
The Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people are one of eight Alaska Native peoples. They have inhabited the coastal environments of south central Alaska for over 7,500 years. Their traditional homelands include Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula. Here people lived in coastal communities and hunted sea mammals from skincovered boats.
Alutiiq people share many cultural practices with the other coastal peoples, particularly the Unangan / Aleut of the Aleutian Chain and the Yup’ik of the Bering Sea coast. Anthropologists believe these cultural similarities reflect a distant but common ancestry.
At the time of European colonization, there were distinct regional groups of Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people, each speaking a slightly different dialect of the Alutiiq language.
Kinkut Alutiit? - Who are the Alutiiq?
In the historic era, Russian traders called all of the Native peoples of southwestern Alaska “Aleut”—despite regional differences in language, cultural practices, and history. In the modern era, this has caused confusion. People with distinct cultures are known by the same name. Today, Kodiak’s Native people use a variety of self-designators. There is no one correct term. Many Elders prefer Aleut, a term they were taught as children. Today, others choose Alutiiq or Sugpiaq. What does each of these terms mean?
Sugpiaq – This is a traditional self-designator of the Native people of Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula. It means “real person” and it is the way Native people described themselves prior to Western contact. This term is used by some today. Sugpiaq is a popular self-designator on the Kenai Peninsula, and is gaining use on Kodiak.
Aleut – This word means “coastal dweller” and it is derived from a Siberian Native language. Russian traders introduced the term, using it to describe the Native people they encountered in the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Kodiak Archipelago. Aleut is still frequently used to refer to the Native people of the Aleutian Islands, although the word Unangan—meaning “we the people” in the region’s traditional language—is gaining popularity.
Alutiiq – “Alutiiq” is the way Sugpiaq people say Aleut. It is the Native way of pronouncing the Russian-introduced word “Aleut” in their own language. Alutiiq is a popular selfdesignator in Kodiak, and reflects the region’s complex Russian and Native history. People used this term occasionally in the Russian era. It gained popularity starting in the 1980s.
Alutiiq or Alutiit?
Noun: to describe one person: I am an Alutiiq.
Noun: to describe the language: They are speaking Alutiiq.
Adjective: as a modifier: There are many Alutiiq artists.
Noun: to describe more than two: There are 40 Alutiit living in Karluk.
Noun: to describe the people or culture collectively: The ancestors of the Alutiit settled Kodiak Island.