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Russian Exploration and Acquisitions

Russian expansion in Asia over time influences the history and contact with our people. The period that brought the Russian expansion to our area was between 1689 to 1801. In this timeframe, the current Kamchatka region became Russia or known as acquisitions. Due to our location, we are closer to Russia and Japan than we are to the area known as the Aleutian Islands. The word Aleut comes from our language, Aliut. We were the first group of indigenous people past the Kamchatka area that the Russians encountered. From there the Russians, called everyone else who they encountered as Aleuts. To this day this colonized word exists. Due to this, we do not call ourselves Aleut. We call ourselves Saskinax̂, another term that can help specifically positively identify ourselves. We were the first Indigenous group of people that were subdued to Russia, and we had a longer contact period than any other First Nations of Alaska group (also known as Alaskan Native). “Near Island Aleuts were the first Alaska Natives to experience sustained contact with Europeans,” Corbett et al. (2010). This is not a historical moment we boast about; however, it is a fact. As a result – our whole identity as a people was oppressed, suppressed, and colonized. During contact Corbet et al. (2010) points out there are three periods: 1.Earliest contact to the formation of the Russian America Company in 1745 to 1799. 2.Company Administration in 1799 to1867. 3.American Control in 1867 to 1942. In this timeframe, our people were enslaved to hunt and help with the Russian America Company’s trade. As shown above, this lasted 122 years. As a result, to our proximity to Kamchatka, our region was visited often among Russian explorers and fur traders. Our region alone faced 70 Russian boats. It was a common practice to steal our womxn and children to control the men of our communities. Also, it was common to take our womxn as trophy wives. Our people faced the most colonization out of the current State of Alaska. As a result, our people today do not know what their identity truly is. In 1867 when the State was bought by Alaska Saskinax̂ people were only about 220 and by 1880 only 107 Saskinax̂ remained. Thus, beginning of the ‘US ownership’ - our people were already on a thin thread of existence.

Russian America Company Settlement Map

Image from Corbett et al. 2010

Saskinax̂ Homes 1745 to 1867

16 Saskinax̂ Homes to One Home 

Russian America Company Settlement Map only showing the very last settlement of Attuans in 1880 to 1942
37 star flag of 1867

United States flag in 1867

US Control from 1867 to 1942

The US government continued the fur exchange business and used our area for their fur exchange profits. For the first four years of US control in the entire State of Alaska killed 12,208 sea otters also known as chax̂tus in our language. Due to this global fur drive in 1895 the the last sea otters in our region were gone. In 1910 there were now only 80 Saskinax̂. By the 1930’s there were only half of that. The continuation of being systemically discriminated against continued. We had to rely on the US government to continue our once Sovereign Nation. We turned to fishing and trapping introduced foxes as our livelihoods after the decimation of the sea otters. The Saskinax̂ fished and trapped up until 1942. They shipped their blue cos pelts to the Alaska Commercial Company for their livelihood. At one point, Michael Hodikoff, tried to open trade for his village’s livelihood and success with Japan. He tried to get approval from the US Government. That never flourished. The US Government officials of the time tried to convince the Saskinax̂ to move to a closer village and of course, during the ownership of these lands this wasn’t the first attempt to convince these indigenous people to move for the government’s convenience. “There was even talk about relocating the village closer to Atka or Unalaska, someplace where it would be easier to supply. In 1874 William Healy Dall was under the impression that the village was about to be moved (Hudson, unknown date).” (William Healy Dall was Acting Assistant to the United States Coast Survey). In the 1920’s again this idea was asked among the indigenous peoples, and they said no. They wanted to stay as part of their traditional homeland rightfully so. However, the US government's wish to move us happened when the Japanese took control of Attu and took us off of our island as prisoners in 1942. When the government learned of the attack by the Japanese, the politician of the time Interior Secretary Harold Ickes stated: ‘Word came down yesterday that a landing of the Japanese had been made on two of the furthermost and utterly useless islands,’ referring to Attu and Kiska. Unfortunately, the far-reaching Washington DC time period’s racial and civil inequalities reached all the way to the furthest location in the United States. There were so many actions of that times’ government to subjugate a small innocent group of people. This government's actions continued yet after the war. When WWII ended, the US government did not want to clean up the war's mess and did not care to return our people home. This was the final effort on the governments’ attempt to do away with us.

US Control in the 20th Century

As demonstrated by the map above Attu was the only island out of the Saskinam Tanamlan region occupied by the Saskinax̂. At this point in time, Attu has seen visitors from Russia, Japan, and America. Russian anthropologists visited this area as well. ‘The Japanese conducted scientific investigations in the area documented by the Attu’s Church registry.’ After these, the American biological surveys occurred in 1936 to 1937 by Olaus Murie (Kohloff, 1995). There were a few visitors that came and went throughout this century. As mentioned earlier, the community relied on fishing and trapping foxes. They did begin a fox farm as well at one point. It was customary since the 19th century for the US Coast Guard to provide vessels that supplied medical aid and communications with Attu each year (April to October timeframe, Kohloff, 1995). Doctors would come in the summertime for medical services. A school was built in 1932, but no teachers were provided. Teachers would only on occasion come during the summer when most families were harvesting for the winter. Only did it matter to send a teacher to Attu when it benefited the United States government. In D.C., ‘the Office of the US Weather Bureau urged sending a teacher and radio operator – Superintendent Claude Hirst moved this and fully funded in the Alaska Indian Budget of 1941 for national defense needs.’ So Attu received their first official teacher, Etta Jones. Her husband acted as the radio operator. This educational length lasted only eight months. This slideshow shows the last Saskinax̂ who lived on Attu Island during this time. Their dexterity and joy can be seen throughout.

RAC Flag.webp

Russian American Company Flag

We only have one home

Village site in 1930's
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