Tuyuq ap'sgu. - Ask the chief.
Classical Alutiiq society had three social classes: wealthy people, commoners, and slaves. Social positions were inherited and permanent. One’s status did not usually change during life. Alutiiq chiefs were members of the elite. They were individuals born to rich families who demonstrated their leadership abilities through generosity, bravery, and the ability to acquire wealth. Many communities also had a second chief, a person from another wealthy family who functioned as the chief ’s assistant.
Chiefs were responsible for political and spiritual leadership at the village level. They built and maintained a men’s house where men discussed civic matters. They led war parties to avenge wrongs and obtain slaves. They hosted winter gatherings to acknowledge animal spirits, thank ancestors, and ensure future prosperity. According to Russian accounts, some powerful chiefs exerted influence over several communities, acting both as local and regional leaders.
Chiefs and their relatives displayed their social status through elaborate dress. Parkas made from rare furs, hats decorated with dentalium shells and amber, elaborate jewelry, and tattoos on the face and shoulders all expressed the power and authority of a community leader.
Tuyuqis a relatively recent addition to the Alutiiq language. According to anthropologist Lydia Black, it comes from the word toyon of the Yakut language of Siberia. Russia traders applied this term to the individuals they selected to make Alutiiq communities follow Russian orders.
Photo: Chief of Uganik Village with his sons, ca. 1917. Photo by Dennis Winn. McCubrey Collection.
StaaRistam agayuwik carliartaaaraa. - The church warden takes care of the church.
Many of Alaska’s Russian Orthodox communities share clergy. Clergymen typically live in the largest community in a parish and serve smaller, outlying communities periodically. In the Kodiak region, for example, clergy stationed in the city of Kodiak and in Old Harbor travel to surrounding villages several times a year. The absence of a resident village priests does not limit the life of the Orthodox Church. The faithful worship and celebrate with the help of local church officers: a lay reader and a church warden.
The lay reader, a liturgical officer, is selected by the church and trained by a predecessor or a priest. Lay readers were once responsible for teaching Slavonic to village children, and they continue to lead Sunday services with instructions from a priest. Although they cannot perform all parts of the service, they can read scripture and lead songs. In recent decades, Alutiiq women have often filled the position of lay reader.
In contrast, a community appoints a church warden to maintain records, assist the lay reader, and manage the physical care of the church building with money collected from parishioners during services. The warden lights candles before services, builds and maintains crosses in the community cemetery, cleans the church, maintains the church walkway, and records baptisms, marriages, and deaths. In the past, the warden also made sure people attended church and kept children quiet during the services.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the lay reader and the church warden were also important political figures. They acted as part of the village council, working with a community’s chief to govern and care for residents.
Image: Three Saints Church, Odl Harbor, watercolor by Helen J. Simeonoff, AM459
Akilingnaq’sqat angsinartut akilingnaqlluteng. – Some corporations are big and they are trying to make money.
Forty years ago, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act returned forty-four million acres of lands and 962.5 million dollars to Alaska’s Native people. Known by its acronym ANCSA, this historic piece of federal legislation represented a turning point in the social history of Alaska. ANCSA symbolized the reassertion of Native control over Native affairs. The decades following the act have been marked by increasing involvement of Native people in Alaska business and government as well as a resurgence of pride in Native ancestry.
ANCSA divided Alaska into twelve regions and established a thirteenth region to represent Alaska Natives living outside the state. These regions were meant to broadly mirror the state’s cultural areas, although creating boundaries was not easy. For example, ANCSA divided the Alutiiq people into four different regions: Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, and Bristol Bay.
To receive shares of the settlement, the people of each region had to form regional for-profit corporations. These corporations were given four major tasks. First, they were to receive cash settlements to manage and invest for their enrollees. Second, they were to become owners of the lands conveyed under ANCSA. Third, they were to assist communities in their region with the formation of village corporations. These smaller corporations were to receive and manage cash and lands from the settlement and further distribute it to individual shareholders. Finally, each regional corporation had to run at least one additional for-profit business.
The Kodiak Alutiiq word for corporation—akisuangnaq’sqat in the northern way of speaking or akilngnaq’sqat in the southern way of speaking—reflects one of the central roles that ANCSA assigned to Alaska Native corporations. These words literally mean “ones that try to make money.”
Photo: Koniag, Inc. Board of Directors, Armstrong Collection.
Kasaakaruat Sun’ami amlertut. - There are a lot of part-Russians in Kodiak.
The term Creole comes from the Spanish word criollo — meaning native to the place. In nineteenth century Kodiak, Russian entrepreneurs used this term for individuals of both Russian and Native ancestry, an increasingly large and segregated part of Kodiak’s population. Descent was not the only defining characteristic of the Creole class, however. A person might also be considered Creole based on their achievements. The Alutiiq word for Creole — kasaakaruaq — literally means a kind of Russian, or not a real Russian.
Russian entrepreneurs, who needed a steady and reliable source of labor, extended special privileges to people of mixed descent and those who pledged political alliance to Russia. In this way, they create a distinct class of tradesmen, managers, and leaders who were in turn guaranteed basic civil rights. In the mid nineteenth century, Creoles performed many of the essential administrative functions in Alaska’s Russian American colonies. In Kodiak, they ran schools and businesses including the flourmill, blacksmith shop, tannery, lumberyard, and metal works. They were also trained as priests, teachers, navigators, cartographers, and ship commanders.
According to Russian regulations, Creole status was hereditary, passed through men to their children. The children of a Native man were considered Native. In contrast, the children of a Russian or Creole man were considered Creole. Creoles had the right to an education, were exempt from taxation and obligatory state service, and could move to Russia at the expense of the Russian American Company after ten years of service in America.
Photo: Hand sewn doll with orthodox cross, by Coral Chernoff. Purchased for the Alutiiq Museum collections with support from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Anaanarpet Ken’aayuq. - Our aunt is a Dena’ina Athabaskan.
The Dena’ina are one of eleven Athabaskan Indian groups in Alaska. Their homeland includes the shores of Cook Inlet, interior regions of the Kenai Peninsula and the northern Alaska Peninsula, and the Matanuska and Susitna river valleys. The term Dena’ina means “the people” and it is a traditional self-designator. Alutiiq people call the Dena’ina Ken’aayuq, an Alutiiq version of a Dena’ina term that means either Kenai people or Knik area.
Archaeologists believe that the Dena’ina spread into the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula about eight hundred years ago. Before this, the Kenai River and Kachemak Bay were home to people of the Kachemak tradition, the ancestors of modern Alutiiqs whose villages spread from the Kenai south across the Kodiak Archipelago. It is not clear whether Athabaskan societies displaced Kachemak tradition societies or whether these societies abandoned the Kenai Peninsula during a period of colder, harsher weather, leaving the region open for colonization. Some archaeologists think that Kodiak’s population jumped about eight hundred years ago. Perhaps ancestral Alutiiq families from the Kenai Peninsula migrated south, joining relatives in Kodiak.
Like their Alutiiq neighbors, the Dena’ina used maritime resources and had a ranked society. Those living along the coast of Cook Inlet harvested harbor seals with harpoons and fished for salmon. Rich men who amassed resources acted as community leaders and traded with neighboring societies. Historic sources indicate that Kodiak Alutiiqs traded for marmot and bear skin garments and perhaps pieces of copper with the Dena’ina. These sources also record that Kena’aayut married Russian and Alutiiq residents of Kodiak, becoming part of the island community.
Map: Natives people and langauges of Alaska, courtesy the Alaska Native Language Center
Guuta’istat alikanka. - I am afraid of dentists.
Photo: A chair at the KANA dental clinic.
Maani tang'rtaan'itukut sungcunek. - We never see any (magical) dwarves around here.
The Alutiiq world is full of magical beings—giants who transform themselves by spitting, people who live on the smell of meat, wily sea monsters, enormous man-worms, evil shaman’s helpers with pointed heads, and dwarves. All of these creatures were thought to inhabit the earth and interact with people. Dwarves, or “little people,” are the best known. These tiny, hairy, knee-high men with loud voices were said to be exceptionally strong. They could kill animals by pointing at them and lived in their own small villages with miniature houses and boats.
Dwarves were often helpful to people in trouble and brought luck to hunters who treated them kindly. Elders remember leaving scraps of food for little people to eat and note that if you met a dwarf, you would be lucky for life.
A legend recorded by French anthropologist Alphonse Pinart tells of two men who secured their hunting luck by caring for two dwarves. The hunters went on a kayak trip and were overtaken by fog. They heard two loud voices and came upon a tiny kayak with two little men. They took these men into their kayak, which caused the fog to disappear. They took the dwarves home and cared for them and had good luck in hunting thereafter.
Because Alutiiqs believe that every object in the universe has a human-like spirit—an actual person inside of it—some people conclude that dwarves are spirits awaiting reincarnation.
Photo: Model kayak with miniature paddlers, gift of Perry Eaton.
Cuqllit amlen'irtut maani awa'i. - There are not many Elders around anymore.
The world’s cultures respond to aging in very different ways. Some societies believe that the aged have less to contribute than the young, considering the elderly a social burden. But in Alutiiq society, older people hold a distinguished, highly respected place. The term Elder refers to their special role. Elders are culture bearers, social leaders, and beloved members of the Alutiiq community. Through their lifetime of experiences and their knowledge of generations past, they connect younger people with Alutiiq history not written in books. Their stories, dances, songs, and activities pass Alutiiq heritage forward and infuse youth with traditional values. In a rapidly changing world, Elders help others remember what it means to be Alutiiq and to take pride in this ancestry.
Today, many Elders participate in cultural programs designed to preserve and share Alutiiq traditions. They teach the Alutiiq language in schools, demonstrate traditional crafts at summer camps, teach songs and dances during Alutiiq Week celebrations, and help to celebrate community events. They are also important advisors, helping others to make decisions that serve Native people and maintain traditional values. When does someone become an Elder? Some say it is at the age of fifty. However, the transformation is usually gradual, occurring as a person gains respect for their knowledge, demonstrates a willingness to share wisdom, and leads by example.
Photo: Alutiiq Elder with cotton grass, photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.