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Definition: Aleut from Philip's Encyclopedia

Branch of the Eskimo people who occupy the Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula. They are divided into two major language groups, the Unalaska and Atka. About 4000 Aleuts live in scattered villages throughout SW Alaska.


Summary Article: Aleut
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an Arctic people who settled the Aleutian Islands in the north Pacific, between Russia and Alaska, around 2500–1000 BC. The Aleut have two linguistic subgroups: the Atkans of the western Aleutians, and Unalaskans of the Alaskan mainland and eastern Aleutians. They share genetic ties with the Siberians of Russia and language and cultural overlaps with the Alaskan Inuit. Traditionally great sea-hunters, they were exploited by Russian fur traders from the 1740s, and came under US control in 1867. Some 11,900 (2000) now live in the Aleutians and Alaska, with smaller communities elsewhere. Their marine hunting lifestyle has been threatened by wildlife concerns since the 1980s.

Seals, walruses, whales, and other sea mammals provided food, clothing, and shelter for the Aleut. They often made their clothes, which could withstand both cold and wet, out of the guts and skin of sea mammals, and sometimes used whalebones as roof beams in their earth-covered longhouses. Shellfish, fish, birds, plants, and berries also contributed to their diet. The Aleut share cultural overlaps with the Inuit, for example, making ivory carvings and kayaks; and with the Northwest Indians, such as basketry made from wild rye grasses. Aleut society was hierarchical, with hereditary nobles, commoners, and slaves. When hunting at sea they wore wooden visored hats that held symbolic and ritual meaning, as well as offering practical protection and focusing sound; differences in the visor and decoration indicated rank and hunting prowess.

Under Russian domination from 1740, the Aleut were forced to trap and skin sea mammals, then clean and hand over the furs. The Aleut fought back, but in the end were overcome. In 1867, the USA purchased the Alaska territory, including the Aleutian Islands, from Russia. During World War II, Japan occupied a few of the islands. When the US government regained control of the territory, they ordered the Aleut to evacuate to mainland Alaska for strategic reasons. For two years the Aleut were kept in internment camps with little food, warm clothes, or medicine; many died. The forced evacuation of the Aleut earned the USA a United Nations' reprimand in 1959; compensation was paid in 1990.

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