Who are the Alutiiq people?
The Alutiiq people are one of several main Native groups indigenous to the state of Alaska. Inhabitants of the coastal regions of Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, the outer Kenai Peninsula, and the Alaska Peninsula, the Alutiiq people are tied to the land and the sea. Prior to the arrival of outsiders, the Alutiit lived in large villages governed by hereditary chiefs. Their houses were sod-like structures build partially underground, and their daily lives revolved around subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, and gathering, as well as social activities, including sewing, cooking, trading, dancing, and participating in religious ceremonies. Numbering approximately 15,000 – 18,000 before European contact, they were a well-established indigenous nation with complex traditions and belief systems, a unique oral history, and a sophisticated artistic aesthetic.
Significant changes occurred in the mid-1700’s as Russian fur traders flocked to the area and enslaved the Alutiiq people to help harvest sea mammals from the surrounding waters. Thousands of Alutiit died due to starvation, disease, and direct execution, leaving the overall population greatly diminished by the time Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867.
Today, the Alutiiq culture is an amalgam of ancestral practices and beliefs and newer practices and beliefs derived from the Russian culture that the Alutiit were so long exposed to.
The Native Village of Ouzinkie
The people of Ouzinkie are Alutiiq (a-LOO-tik) by ancestry, meaning they are indigenous Alaska Natives who have made their home in and around the coastal areas of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska for the past 7,000 years. Ouzinkie is a rural village of approximately 170 people located on Spruce Island just north of Kodiak Island, roughly 250 air miles south of Anchorage. Not unlike most small villages in remote parts of Alaska, Ouzinkie is inaccessible by road, and groceries and residents must arrive by boat or bush plane. The majority of the Ouzinkie villagers are of Alutiiq descent and engage in a traditional subsistence lifestyle, hunting for deer, fishing for salmon, and collecting berries and other seasonal foods from the island’s rich offerings. The Alutiiq residents speak both English and their native language (Alutiiq), and they are predominately practitioners of the Russian Orthodox faith, a religion introduced in the eighteenth century when Russian fur traders colonized the area before its sale to America.