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.
Kungyut amlertaallriit kangiyami. - There used to always be a lot of crested auklets in the bay.
The crested auklet (Aethia cristatella), known by some as the sea quail, is a member of the alcid family, a group that includes auks, puffins, and murres. About two million of these sea birds live in Alaska, in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, but they range as far as the Kurile Island of Japan and the central Gulf of Alaska.
Roughly 9 inches tall, with a black back and a grey belly, these birds take their name from a distinctive tuft of black feathers found on their foreheads. This ornamental plumage curves forward over the auklet’s short orange beak. Crested auklets feed on zooplankton and nest on rocky slopes and beaches. They aggregate in colonies with other species of auklets and are known for their spectacular flocking behavior. Large groups of birds will swoop, soar, and dive together, especially during the mating season.
Kodiak lies at the far eastern edge of the crested auklet’s range. Birds can be seen in small numbers around the archipelago in the summer. However, they are more common in the cold season, when they gather in protected marine waters. Hunters recall taking auklets in the winter. Men pursued the birds on the water, often with the assistance of moonlight or by the light of the rising sun. Due to their small size, people harvested a number of birds, which they roasted or made into soup.
Alutiiq Elders report that crested auklets were once more common around Kodiak, and have declined in number. This may be why they are no longer hunted, as they seldom occur in large flocks. Although auklets are not considered endangered, Elder’s observations illustrate how people who harvest from an environment for many years can notice subtle changes in plant and animal life. Their ecological knowledge can provide information on the impacts of development, disasters, or technological changes, or chart the gradual progress of phenomena like climate change.
Photo: Crested Auklets in the Kodiak Archipelago. Photo Courtesy Rich Macintosh.
Suu'ut ilait KRiistaartumataartut. - Some people wear a cross.
Introduced to Kodiak by nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox clergy, the Christian cross is a symbol that appears widely in Alutiiq communities. Although kRistaaqsounds like the word Christ, it comes from the Russian word for cross, kRest, which may be related to the Latin word ‘crux.’ It is not derived from KRistuusaq, the Alutiiq word for Christ, which comes from the Russian khristos and from the Greek khristos, meaning “the anointed one.” Both words are Alutiicized by adding -aq to their final consonant. This is one common way of turning Russian nouns into Alutiiq nouns.
As in other Christian communities, crosses are a common sight in Alutiiq villages, where they decorate homes, mark graves, and grace Orthodox churches. One notable characteristic is their three bars. The top horizontal bar signifies the sign placed above Christ’s head, where the Romans displayed the mocking title “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The second bar, also horizontal, represents the beam on which Christ’s arms were nailed. The third, lower bar is slanted. It represents the footrest that supported Christ’s body.
Photo: Crosses on the spired of the Three Saints Russian Orthodox Church in Old Harbor.
Qalngaa’aq tan’ertuq. (N); Qalngaa’aq tamlertuq. (S) - The crow is black.
Alaska is home to one species of crow: Corvus cauriuns, the northwestern crow. Smaller than its cousin the American Crow, this black bird frequents the Pacific coast from Washington state to southcentral Alaska and occasionally the eastern Aleutian Islands. The northwestern crow is a coastal species, typically found around beaches, tidal marshes, and spruce forests bordering the ocean. It nests in trees, boulders, and deadfalls and eats shellfish, fish, berries, and insects. Crows are also common around human settlements where they forage in garbage.
The Alutiiq word for raven, qalnga’aq, is very similar to the Alutiiq word for crow, qalngaa’aq, which may mean something like “little raven.” Many people confuse crows with ravens, although crows are smaller and have a distinctive square tail. Crows also have a unique set of calls. They say “kaah” and “wok-wok-wok,” make clicks and rattling noises, and can even meow like a cat.
An Alutiiq story from Prince William Sound warns of the sneaky behavior of crows. Like ravens, crows will steal your food. In a small village on Hinchinbrook Island, an old woman hung her fish to dry in the open air. Later, a group of children came running to say that crows were eating her fish. Angered, the woman grabbed her bow and arrow. While singing a song to shoo the birds away, she launched arrows at them. She missed the crafty crows, but learned to dry her food inside the smokehouse.
Photo: Crow and cat share a bowl of food. Ouzinkie, ca. 1950. Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Sarsataartukut caskagunk aturluku. - We drink our tea using a cup.
Some historians believe that 1840 was a pivotal moment in Alutiiq history, a point where cultural change accelerated, with major shifts in Kodiak’s social and economic landscape. Devastated by the smallpox epidemic of 1837–1839, Kodiak’s Alutiiq communities reorganized into regional settlements, where survivors began to rebuild their lives. At the same time, Russia and Britain established a formal agreement that allowed the Hudson Bay Company to trade more freely in coastal Alaska, vastly expanding the quantity of western goods available.
Archaeological data illustrate this change. Historic Alutiiq settlements dating before 1840s have few trade goods. Glass beads and copper rings—trinkets from Russian traders with poor links to European supplies—and the occasional fragment of Chinese porcelain occur among assemblages of classical Alutiiq tools. By 1840, however, European ceramics became a common household item. Mid-nineteenth-century Alutiiq villages are filled with fragments of finely made bone china plates, saucers, and teacups. Painted with illustrations from European gardens and cities, they illustrate the dramatic change in the mix of Alutiiq and western objects that characterized this period. While Alutiiq people continued to live in sod houses, their rooms were filled with British teacups, flintlock rifles, iron knives, axes, and other items that began to link them to the global economy. After the American purchase of Alaska, traders brought in cheaper quality ceramics with boldly painted designs.
Photo: Hand stamped cup and saucer. Gift of Patrick and Zoya Saltonstall.
Carwaq tukniuq. - The current is strong.
Katallrianga kesiin qanernilngua! (N); Katallrianga kesiin qan'rnilngua! (S) - I fell but I didn't cuss!
Despite the global history of cussing, curse words are often culturally specific. Every society determines what words and subjects are taboo. Every society has their own set of expletives that reflect cultural values, social norms, and local history. Interestingly, words from related languages can have very different meanings. For example the Yup'ik word for talking –Qanerluni, means "to cuss" in the Alutiiq language. Such changes in word meaning can lead to funny conversations, particularly when speakers are unaware of the differences.
Like many children, Alutiiq youth learn that cussing is wrong and that it can have bad consequences. One Elder recalls his parents saying that the devil would come after him if he swore. Yet they also remember adults cussing at each other during arguments. Documenting these colorful words is difficult. Ironically, many Alutiiq swears are disappearing, as Elder speakers do not wish to share profanity with young language learners. In the past, however, comparing someone to a Tlingit person was a form of cussing. This practice reflected the historic rivalry between the Alutiiq and Tlingit peoples.