Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule

Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule


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Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule by Sonja Luehrmann, S. Luehrmann

Sonja Luehrmann’s volume examines Alutiiq history within the larger context of Russian and American expansionism. The author uses source material in both English and Russian in order to create a work focused on the intersection of the two colonial perspectives—throwing light on our understanding of the differences in the way each society incorporated the Alutiiq community, both as a labor force and a social entity. In a series of map essays, Luehrmann examines the changing patterns of settlement and demography among the Alutiiq as the population responded to the conditions they encountered: economic exploitation, new cultural influences, intermarriage, disease, and the eruption of Novarupta. The addition of Russian source material fills an important blank in this unique history and makes Alutiiq Villages Under Russian and U.S. Rule a major resource for anyone working on Alutiiq history or the region’s history in the Russian colonial period.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602230231
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 02/03/2009
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Sonja Luehrmann holds an M.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Frankfurt, Germany and is currently a doctoral candidate in anthropology and history at the University of Michigan. She has published articles on colonialism in the Arctic, as well as on religion and globalization in contemporary Russia.

First Chapter

Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule

By Sonja Luehrmann

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2008 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-023-1

Chapter One

Masks and Matrioshkas: Memorabilia from Alutiiq Historiography

When tourists in South-Central Alaska visit a souvenir store, they are presented with a range of items to remind them of the natural and cultural riches of the forty-ninth state: from gold nugget jewelry to various products made of moose "nuggets" (feces); from birch syrup and sea otter beanie babies to plastic miniature totem poles; from Native crafts such as ivory carvings, Athabaskan beadwork, ulu knives, and Yup'ik masks to Russian Orthodox icons and nesting matrioshka dolls featuring Lenin, Sta lin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin. Finally there are the Tundra cartoons by Chad Carpenter making fun of the whole tourist business in Alaska.

The articles of Native art in these stores still recall the kinds of souvenirs sold to the first waves of tourists visiting the territory around 1900, when, in the interpretation of Molly Lee, Native artworks served as metonyms (attributes standing for the whole) for Alaska (Lee 1999:268). If the range of objects selected as metonyms seems to have widened in the course of the century, the whole that these detached attributes refer to also has multiple shapes: Do carved walrus tusks represent Alaska as the Last Frontier rich in wildlife or as home to a fascinating Native population? Do icons belong together with matrioshkas in an Alaskan version of the post-Cold War trade in Russian/ Soviet curios, similar to what one might find on the opposite side of the world, in places such as Berlin or Prague? Or do they, together with ulus and masks, point to the religious practices of Alaska Natives and offer an image of deeper and richer cultural roots than 140 years of U.S. presence could convey?

If recognizably Russian souvenirs sell well in contemporary Alaska, this indicates certain shifts in the way Alaskan history has been portrayed and presented both to Alaskan residents of various origins and to outsiders with relatively little personal stake in its telling. Especially since the end of the Cold War, the fact that Alaska was a Russian colony before it was sold to the United States in 1867 has increasingly been portrayed in a positive light, giving the state the kind of uniqueness and distinctiveness that tour operators look for. For those parts of Alaska's Native population whose history was deeply intertwined with the Russian presence, this change has opened up new possibilities of telling their history and articulating their identity. The Alutiiq, whose experiences under two successive colonial powers form the subject of this book, are a group that has gained public visibility in recent years partly thanks to the increased attention to the Russian period in Alaska, partly to a growing interest in the "hybrid" or "creolized" cultures that resulted from colonization in many parts of the world. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the background of historical and anthropological scholarship, both in English and in Russian, out of which this renewed attention emerges and to outline some of the reasons why Alutiiq history should matter to Alutiiq and non-Alutiiq readers.

Whose Colorful Past Is It?

For a long time, Alutiiq history was marginal to popular and scholarly accounts of Alaska Native culture owing to this group's long history of intermarriage and economic interdependence with Russian and Anglo-American newcomers. Gordon Pullar, former president of Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and later director of the Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development at the University of Alaska, tells of a woman from Kodiak Island who looked at objects elaborately crafted by her ancestors and excavated at Karluk in the 1980s:

Her facial expression reflected both confusion and sadness. Finally speaking, she said, "I guess we really are Natives after all. I was always told that we were Russians." (Pullar 1992:183)

As Pullar elaborates in his article, the "baggage" (Pullar 1992:182) accumulated over generations of being colonized by two successive powers whose institutions-Russian Orthodox and American Protestant schools-directly competed for a while, leaves many Alutiiq today with unresolved issues of shame, guilt, and hu miliation and a sense of lacking knowledge of and authority over who they are.

As inhabitants of the southern coastline, relatively accessible and rich in sea otter and salmon, the Alutiiq were among those Alaskan peoples most strongly affected by Russian and early U.S.-American activities in Alaska. The very designation "Alutiiq" shows the marks that this history has left on the self identification of the people of Kodiak Island and South Alaska. Since the Russians extended their name for the Unangan po pulation of the Aleutian Islands to the people they encountered and subdued further to the east, these people began themselves to identify as "Aleuts." Heinrich Johann Holmberg, a Finnish traveler who visited Kodiak Island in 1851, claims that the younger generation at that time did not know any other name for themselves than "Aljutik" (Holmberg 1856:282), their pronunciation of "Aleut." On the Alaska Peninsula, where precolonial ethnic boundaries are subject to much debate, people speaking Unangan and various dialects of Sugcestun and Yup'ik came to call themselves "Aleut" as a mark of their close affiliation with the Russians in the area and to distinguish themselves from those Yup'ik groups to the northwest who lacked such contacts (Morseth 1998:7-9; Oswalt 1967a:4-5, 8).

Today, the term "Alutiiq" is used as a self-designation by speakers of Sugcestun (an Eski moan language closely related to Yup'ik) living on the Kodiak Archipelago, the Alaska Peninsula, and Prince William Sound. By adopting the local pronunciation of the Russian word, they distinguish themselves from the linguistically and culturally distinct "Aleuts" (Unangan) of the southwestern tip of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. The Alutiiq are also known as Sugpiaq, meaning "real person." The terms "Koniag" (from an Unangan designation) and "Chugach" are used for the inhabitants of the Kodiak Archipelago and Prince William Sound, respectively. The term "Pacific Eskimo," introduced by twentieth-century anthropologists on the basis of close linguistic ties to Yup'ik, is often taken as an insult. Under Russian colonization, "Aleuts" had grown accustomed to regarding "Eskimos" as dirtier and less civilized, and telling people who thought of themselves as Aleuts that they were really Eskimos did little to foster relationships of mutual respect with scholars (Clark 1984:195-196; Crowell 1997:35; Pullar 1992:185).

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the widespread intermarriage in the Alutiiq area, first with Russians, then with Scandinavians, was used to deny their descendants claims to "nativeness." The Creoles, descendants of Russian men who had married Native-mainly Unangan and Alutiiq but also Yup'ik, Denaina, and Tlingit-women, had formed a special class in the social order of the Russian colony. Under the U.S. system that distinguished mainly between "white" and "colored" and that frowned on or actually prohibited miscegenation, there was no conceptual space for such a group of people. For Creole families, identifying as Russian may have been a strategy to gain status and opportunities denied to Natives in the early twentieth century, but for the woman Pullar describes, her family's decision had become a cause of shame and regret at having lost touch with the past that is presented to her in the museum (Partnow 2001:143-144, 203). Even today, identifying/being identified as Native in Alaska has two sides: it can provide a sense of pride, bring certain economic be nefits, and provoke a benevolent interest from non-Natives, but it can also mean being discriminated against, labeled as a lazy alcoholic or a quaint remnant of the past, and belonging to communities that still have to fight for their economic and cultural rights.

Pullar argues for a historic understanding of the roots of this sense of disempowerment and uncertain identity-dealing with the "pain and confusion" in family histories along with celebrating the "valuable knowledge" of elders (Pullar 1992:188). Assuming "that a Native community made up of people with a strong sense of who they are is in a much more powerful position to assert its rights," even though the outcome of that struggle for awareness might be a totally new culture, he points to the way in which historical research by or in traditionally disadvantaged communities will always be incorporated into debates over how to achieve justice in the present (Pullar 1992:183, 189). In the Alutiiq region, this interest in the revitalizing effects of historical knowledge has resulted in several collaborative projects between regional or village corporations and Alutiiq and outside re searchers, such as the excavations at Karluk carried out in collaboration between KANA and Bryn Mawr College, oral history projects, and the Looking Both Ways exhibit project. Between 1993 and 1998, Afognak Native Corporation ran the "Dig Afognak" archaeological field school for Ko diak and outside students at precontact and Russian-period sites on Afognak Is land codirected by Katherine Woodhouse-Beyer from Brown University and Patrick Saltonstall from the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak (Crowell, Steffian, and Pullar 2001; Kodiak Area Native Association 1987; Pullar 1992:183; Woodhouse-Beyer 2001).

Such initiatives were enabled in part by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which created Native corporations with ownership over land and economic resources and thus gave representatives of Native communities a certain financial and institutional power that researchers cannot simply ignore (Berger 1985; Case 1984:14-28). But these new collaborations were also spurred by a new interest in the colonial society that had existed in Alaska under Russian colonial rule, precipitated by political changes in the Soviet Union, which made Russian archives and Russian scholarship available to Anglophone scholars.

North American Historiography: East of the Cold War Border

Nowadays objects made to stand for Alaska's Russian past, whether icons, matrioshkas, or Orthodox Churches, have a positive value for tourism, and the Russian past is celebrated. Sitka, for instance, reminds visitors of the time when it was capital of Russian America-"The Paris of the Pacific"-as proof of its "colorful history" (National Park Service 1997). But this has not always been so.

In the decades following the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, Russian Orthodox religious practices, literacy in the Cyrillic alphabet, allegiance (real or suspected) to the Russian tsar, and other signs of Russian influence among the Native (including the Creole) population were attacked as vigorously by Protestant teachers and missionaries as indigenous languages and religions. Protestants alternately accused Russian Orthodox priests of focusing on empty ritual and not having done anything to convert the Natives in earnest and of exerting too much control over them (Dauenhauer 1996:84-85; Jacobs 1997:38-39). Charles Elliott, on an inspection of the Alaskan salmon fisheries, reported from Kodiak in 1899:

The Indians are under the domination of the Russian Church, and the personality of the priest in charge determines to a considerable extent the condition of the Indians. The priest at Kadiak preaches sedition against the United States, his influence being distinctly for evil. [...] The [U.S.] Government seems so remote to the Indians that it is not surprising they still look to Russia, through its clergy, for protection. (Elliott 1900:741)

In texts from the period after World War II, Cold War fears enter into the description of extremely brutal, drunken Russians invading the Aleutian chain in the eighteenth century, enslaving the defenseless Natives:

The cowed Aleuts never again found the courage to resist the Russians [after an uprising in 1764]. So thoroughly were these easy going people broken that they became but bondsmen, slaves, and concubines to the Russians as the Muscovites continued their expansion eastward along the coasts of Alaska. (Hulley 1958:61)

Such an attitude is not only anti-Russian (and usually accompanied by a failure to be equally critical of U.S. policies in the region) but also demeaning to the people who were supposedly so weak that they were "cowed" into absolute submission. Persisting Russian elements in Native cultures were seen as evidence of the destruction of former cultural purity, and the contribution of institutions such as the Orthodox Church to giving Native communities strength and resilience was seldom acknowledged. This inability to imagine Russian heritage as part of a Native identity must have been part of the difficulty experienced by the woman observed by Pullar. Lydia Black, the scholar who contributed greatly to changing this image of Russian rule, responded in 1977 to claims that Native culture had disappeared owing to colonization:

It is true that in the course of the last two centuries Aleut culture has changed. Aleuts are predominantly members of the Orthodox branch of the Christian Church, are participants in the modern economic and political order, and have been literate in their own language for over 150 years. The Aleuts are concerned with their heritage; they take great pride in their literary legacy. As far as the alleged lack of interest in history is concerned, the problem may lie [...] among the investigators who look for the wrong kind of history-a history that is no longer pertinent to the Aleuts. (Black 1977a:95, emphasis in the original)

Lydia Black (1925-2007) has done much to provide scholars with a broader source base to assess the organization of Russian rule in Alaska and the interaction of Russians and Natives. She and colleagues such as Richard Pierce, Barbara Smith, Katherine Arndt, and Michael Oleksa have published translations from Russian sources and interpretations of research in Russian and U.S. archives. During the same period, the growing field of ethnohistory challenged the view of colonized people as victims in an inevitable process of acculturation by emphasizing the dynamics of mutual accommodation and the creative strategies with which the colonized protected and reshaped their own spheres of life (Berkhofer 1974:124-126). Historians of Russian America have also come to realize that mere brutal force would not have allowed the Russians to exploit such a large area, given the small numbers of Russians present in Alaska and their dependence on Native hunters (Gibson 1996). Much of the late-twentieth-century scholarship on the Russian period emphasizes peaceful co existence, cultural exchange, and the contributions of benevolent individuals such as Saint Innocent, formerly Father Ioann Veniaminov, priest at Unalaska and Sitka, later bishop and Metropolitan.

In her last work on the history of Russian Alaska to appear during her lifetime, Lydia Black criticizes the first chief manager Aleksandr Baranov and other individual administrators but points out the beneficial effects of medical and educational facilities built by the RAC and the church. She uses the example of the Creole class to demonstrate the opportunities of social advancement for educated Natives and people from mixed families and stresses the ongoing veneration of Orthodox missionaries such as Saint Herman and Saint Innocent (Black 2004).

This positive image of Russian Alaska fits in with a growing fascination in scholarship and popular culture with hybrid, creolized histories created through intermarriage and social interaction in the contact zones of colonial empires, the globalizing economy and cyberspace culture (Brah and Coombes 2000). This current interest has made the histories of previously almost forgotten populations visible again, for instance that of the Alaskan Creoles or their Siberian counterparts (Vakhtin, Golovko, and Schweitzer 2004). Things become more problematic when some scholars use the current positive image of the Russian period, especially the alleged irrelevance of racial barriers and the use of Native languages in church services and education, as a positive contrast with later U.S. policies (Black 1990:153; Dauenhauer 1996; Oleksa 1987:20-25). Rather than going from the extreme of vilifying Russian rule in Alaska to the opposite extreme of glorifying it, the new accessibility of sources and possibilities for scholarly exchange across the Bering Strait may provide the opportunity to understand the Russian Empire and the late-nineteenth-century United States in their respective historical contexts. In this way, students of Alutiiq history could learn something about the ways in which people live through successions of social and economic changes, without having to decide which colonial period was better or worse than the other.


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Table of Contents

A Note on Citation, Transliteration, and Translations
1.   Masks and Matrioshkas: Memorabilia from Alutiiq Historiography
      Whose Colorful Past Is It?
      North American Historiography: East of the Cold War Border
      Views From Across the Bering Strait
      Placing Village Histories in Context: Nuchek and Geography
      Villages and Communities
2.   Village Locations and Colonial History: Map Essays
      Map 1. Kodiak Island in 1805: Center of a Periphery
      Map 2. Kodiak Island in 1830: Records to Supplement the Maps
      Map 3. The Alutiiq Region in 1850: A Wider Picture
      Map 4. Kodiak Island in 1850: After the Epidemic
      Map 5. The Alutiiq Region in 1895: Competitive Fur Trade and Canneries
      Map 6. The Alutiiq Region in 1930: After an Eruption and an Epidemic
3.   Riddles of Colonial Rule: Fur Hunting for the Russians
      Alutiiq Labor under the RAC
      Alutiiq Society and the Power of the RAC
      Legal and Practical Changes
      Managing Labor Resources, Reorganizing Settlements
      Separate Tasks for Separated People
4.   From Mainstay to Auxiliary: Alutiiq Labor after the Sale of Alaska
      The ACC and Its Rivals: Competitive Fur Trade
      Canneries: A New Ethnic Division of Labor
      Dispossessed Politics
5.   Paper Villages: Statistical Categories and Social Life
      Feudal and Racial Hierarchies: The Life of Legal Categories
      Social Distinction and Biology: Evolving Ideas
      Education: Bone of Contention
      Statistics, Family, and Gender
      Multiracial Society and Its Loose Endings
Conclusion: Contrast or Sequence?
Appendix: Selected Population Figures from Russian Orthodox Church and U.S. Census Sources
       Kodiak Parish from the Clerical Registers, 1843-1895
       Kodiak and Afognak Parishes, 1912/1910
       Prince William Sound/Kenai Area, 1858-1910

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