Ungalarmiut yaksigtut. - People of Prince William Sound are far from here.
Prince William Sound lies at the center of the Gulf of Alaska, between the Copper River delta and the Kenai Peninsula. Steep, glaciated mountains rim this wide, forested embayment, filled with fjords and islands. Like Kodiak, Prince William Sound is known for its plentiful marine resources, but furbearers, sheep, and goats also abound. And like Kodiak, the sound is home to Alutiiq communities.
Archaeological data indicate people first colonized Prince William about 4,400 years ago and that they shared many traditions with Kodiak islanders. It is not clear whether the sound’s earliest inhabitants came from Kodiak or the nearby Kenai Peninsula, but they used tools and structures similar to those in neighboring areas, suggesting ancestral connections. Moreover, through time, changes in the archaeological record of Prince William Sound mirror changes on Kodiak, suggesting that residents of both regions were closely related.
Although the Native population of Prince William Sound appears to have always been relatively low, historic accounts reveal that eight distinct Alutiiq groups lived in the sound. Collectively, the members of these groups called themselves Chugach, and they spoke a regional dialect of the Alutiiq language. Although part of the same culture, each Chugach group was independent, with its own political leader and central village. Today, the principal Chugach villages of the region are Chenega Bay, Eyak, and Tatitlek in Prince William Sound, and Port Graham and Nanwalek on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Chugach people also live in the Prince William Sound communities of Cordova, Seward, Valdez, and Whittier.
The Kodiak Alutiiq word for the people of Prince William Sound, Ungalarmiut, literally means “people of the east or northeast.” It is derived from ungalaq, the word for an east or northeast wind.
Illustration: Man of Prince William Sound by engraving by John Webber, 1784.
Guangkuta “Sugpianek” ap’rtaakiikut cuumi, nutaan ap’rtaaraakut Alutiit.- They used to call us Sugpiaq before, but now we are called Alutiiqs.
Who are Kodiak’s Native people? This a common question. Russian fur traders called them the Aleut, a word derived from a Siberian Native language that means coastal dweller. The Russian’s applied this term to all of the indigenous people they encountered, from the Aleutian Islands to Prince William Sound, regardless of their unique cultural heritages. On Kodiak, Sugpiaq (pluralized Sugpiat) was the traditional name for the people. Derived from the word suk, which means person, and -piat a suffix meaning real or genuine, Sugpiat translates as the real people. Many indigenous societies use similar terms. Yup’ik, the preferred designation of the Native people of western Alaska, also means “real people,” and Unangan, the preferred designation of Aleutian Islanders, translate as “we the people.”
Today many of Kodiak’s Native people refer to themselves as Alutiiq, which is the Sugpiat way of saying Aleut. Alutiiq remains popular as it highlights unique cultural qualities while retaining part of the word Aleut. However, there are still many people who prefer to be called Aleut, or who use the terms Aleut, Alutiiq, and Sugpiaq interchangeably. It is important to note, however, that most of Kodiak’s Native people recognize that the Aleut people of the Aleutian Island and those of Kodiak are cultural distinct.
Photo: Boy's party, Karluk. Clyda Christiansen Collection.
Cuumi Kasaakat Sun’ami amlerta’umallriit. - Before in Kodiak there were (reportedly) a lot of Russians
The Russian era in Alaska began in the early eighteenth century, when explorers and traders sailed east from Siberia in search of new lands and resources. In addition to a wealth of sea mammals, fish, and birds, Russian colonists found Native people: a source of skilled labor for harvesting this bounty. Over the following century, Russian traders conscripted Native workers to harvest everything from sea otters to ground squirrels, bird eggs, and plant foods. Although most of this work took place in and around Native settlements, Russian ships also transported workers far from home, as far south as California.
At Ft. Ross, an artel established on the northern coast of California in 1812, Alutiiq men and women were the main part of the Russian-led work force that included Aleutian Islanders and local Kashaya and Miwok Indians. Alutiiq men hunted sea mammals for the Russian American Company and served as tradesmen. They worked as carpenters, sawyers, coopers, tanners, miners, fishermen, porters, and laborers, living in their own village adjacent to the fort’s stockade. Some brought their families, others raised families with local Indian women. In 1820, there were 126 Kodiak Alutiiqs living at Fort Ross. Personnel lists name their home villages.
The Farallons, a desolate cluster of rocky volcanic islands at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, held another distant Russian outpost. Here, a Russian overseer managed Alutiiq and Indian workers who hunted seals and birds and gathered bird eggs from about 1811 to 1831. When the Russians left the California coast in 1841, most of the Alutiiq workers returned to Alaska.
Image: Water color painting of the Russian Orthodox Church at Little Afognak, by Helen Simeonof, Alutiiq Museum collections.
Kalla’alek alingnartuq. - The shaman is scary.
Alutiiq shamans healed the sick, foretold the future, controlled the weather, and recounted events in far-off places. They acted as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds, fulfilling the dangerous task of communicating with animals, ancestors, and supernatural beings. Shamans could turn themselves into animals or send their souls to find lost people.
Contact with the spirit world was achieved through trances and with the use of special gear, including shamanic masks and dolls. Dolls could be sent away to perform tasks, or carved in the likeness of an individual to cause harm or manipulate a person’s behavior.
Both men and women could become shamans, and shamanic powers often ran in families. An aspiring shaman acquired his or her spirit by walking for many days. The spirit entered a novice’s body and taught him the secrets of the trade. Once the spirit was obtained, the shaman might hear its voice in the cry of a bird or be approached during his or her daily life. However, not all people who anted to be shamans got called. Shamans often performed in the evening, dancing and singing as they communicated with the spirit world.
Shamanic practices continued well into the twentieth century. Elders recall their fear of powerful individuals who could heal the sick or cause great harm. People protected themselves with prayer. In the late twentieth century, however, shamanism faded from practice.
Shaman is a Siberian word incorporated into both English and Alutiiq. One of the common Alutiiq words for shaman— samanaq—reflects this derivation.
Photo: This pregnant doll may represent a fertility figurine used by a shaman. Karluk One site, Koniag, Inc. Collection.
Awaqutan cip’ausngauq. - Your son is a smart aleck.
In the Alutiiq language, the word cip’ausngasqaq translates literally as a “know it all” or a “smart aleck,” and people use the term to refer to someone who thinks of himself as a big shot. Among Alutiiqs, behaving like a big shot can be dangerous. Boasting is not only bad manners, it can poison your luck. A boastful hunter may offend the animals his family depends on and cause them to avoid his arrows. In the case of a bear, boasting can cause the animal to become enraged. A braggart can bring starvation on his family or get himself killed.
Despite warnings about boastful behavior, Alutiiq stories feature the raucous, boastful Raven, an obnoxious bird that does great deeds. In these stories, Raven lives in Alutiiq communities and can speak in Alutiiq, but he is arrogant, dirty, and impolite to his Elders. Yet despite his poor behavior, Raven is smart and keeps his promises, and he ends up succeeding where others fail.
In one legend, Raven lives with his elderly grandmother at the edge of a large village. Here, he is so disliked that he must live off refuse from the beach. One harsh winter, when hunting was impossible, the villagers began to starve. Raven, who was always able to scavenge enough food for himself and his grandmother, asked the village chief what he would give him if he were able to bring the chief food. The chief offered Raven his oldest daughter in marriage. Pleased with the offer, Raven ordered his grandmother to clean their house and pecked her until she complied. Then he scavenged a bundle of dried fish and won the chief ’s daughter. But the Raven smelled so bad that the girl refused to stay with him and went home to her father. The next winter, famine struck the community again. Raven sent his grandmother to the home of another young woman and offered her food to marry him. She agreed, and despite the Raven’s stench, she stayed in his home. Raven then captured a giant whale and brought it to the starving village to share with all those who had treated him poorly. They gorged themselves on blubber, eating so much that they soon died. Only Raven, his grandmother, and his faithful wife lived.
Amlesqanek metqangq’rtuq. - He has a lot of slaves.
Like their Tlingit and Aleut neighbors, Alutiiqs lived in a ranked society. Individuals were born into one of three classes: elite, common, or slave. These social distinctions ordered much of daily life. From dividing subsistence foods to sharing a meal, giving gifts, or seating guests at a festival, activities were structured by social position. People of higher status always received the best treatment. A person’s clothes were even a measure of their rank. The wealthy wore embroidered garments of plush otter and fox furs. Slaves, at the other end of the social spectrum, wore simple robes stitched from seal and bird skins.
Slavery was an important component of the Alutiiq social system. By owning slaves, members of the elite class were able to maintain and enhance their prestige. War captives and orphans, usually women and children, became the property of the wealthy. They were obliged to work at subsistence and household tasks to generate wealth. As such, they were both a source and a symbol of wealth. Slaves could be traded for goods, exchanged for hostages, given as gifts, and even sacrificed at their owner’s death. According to historic accounts, the treatment of slaves depended on their owner. Some owners were kind. Others were not. Whatever their treatment, the enslaved were allowed to marry and have children. Slaves could even marry non-slaves. These individuals remained in service, but their children were considered free.
Photo: Puffin skin parka, the type of garments worn by slaves. Ethnolen Collection, National Museum of Finland.
Gui nengauwangq’rtua. - I have a son–in-law.
Alutiiqs use the term nengau’aq in a variety of ways. In some communities, it specifically means a son-in-law: the man who married your daughter. In others, the word is a general term for any man related by marriage. Whatever they are called, Alutiiq men know that when they marry an Alutiiq woman, they marry her family.
The extended family is extremely important in Alutiiq communities, where grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and godparents form an extensive support network. These family members are expected to share what they have and provide assistance when it is needed. Also, family members work together. For example, groups of related men often form the crews of fishing boats or hunt together.
Until recently, when newly married couples began establishing households of their own, Alutiiq newlyweds lived with the bride’s family. This practice has ancient roots. Historic accounts indicate that a young man spent the first few years of married life working for his father-in-law, until he had the resources to build and maintain a home for his wife.
Today, it can be hard to find a spouse in an Alutiiq community. Alutiiq villages are small. For young people there are few unrelated people to date, and the church further limits potential partners by prohibiting marriage between church relatives. You may not marry a godparent’s child. Thus, many young people marry beyond their community. This reshuffles village populations, introducing men and women from other communities or creating communities where many of the young people have left.
Photo: Opheim Anderson Wedding. Smith Collection, Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Litnauwistarpet asirtuq. - Our teacher is good.
Western-style teachers became part of the Kodiak landscape in the late eighteenth century, soon after the arrival of Russian fur traders. Although Alutiiq adults taught their children the skills they needed for life in the Alutiiq world, a small number of boys began to study the Russian language, mathematics, and navigation at a secular school founded by Gregorii Shelikof in 1786. In 1794, when the first Orthodox mission arrived in Kodiak, clergy members took over the school, acting as its teachers and administrators.
The number of Kodiak schools and teachers proliferated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, after the purchase of Alaska by the United States. In the American era, missionaries set up orphanages with schools in places like Woody Island and Ouzinkie, and the Bureau of Education began establishing community schools.
These government schools were the precursors of modern public schools, although most did not offer high school classes. Students who wanted to earn a diploma had to leave home for boarding schools in places like Sitka, Alaska, and Salem, Oregon. Boarding schools were damaging to many students. They were far from home, forcing years of isolation from family members, separation from community events and cultural practices, and increasing dropout rates. One Alutiiq Elder recalls how his father died while he was at boarding school and the pain of not being able to return home.
In 1972, twenty-seven Alaska Native students sued the State of Alaska for failing to provide high schools in their communities. They argued that the state was denying them fair access to an education, as guaranteed by Alaska’s constitution, and that this failure was in violation of the United States Constitution’s prohibition against discrimination. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed. This decision began a period of school building in rural communities and created the schools that children in Alutiiq villages attend today. Although some students still opt for boarding school, most are educated in their own communities where their families can also be their teachers.
Photo: Old Harbor students with their teacher, ca. 1950. Violet Able Collection, Courtesy the City of Old Harbor.