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Aleut A native inhabitant of the Aleutian Islands and W Alaska. Like the Eskimo, the Aleuts are racially similar to Siberian peoples. Their language is a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family. When they were first noted by Vitus Jonassen Bering in 1741, their estimated population was between 20,000 and 25,000. Because of their skill in hunting sea mammals, the Aleuts were exploited by Russian fur traders throughout the coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska, sometimes as far south as California. The ruthless policies of their masters and conflict with the fierce mainland natives reduced their population by the end of the 18th cent. to one tenth its former size. They now number about 1,000 and continue to live in relative isolation. Most are members of the Russian Orthodox Church. See V. I. Jochelson, The History, Ethnology and Anthropology of the Aleut (1933, repr. 1966); Robert Ackerman, Ethnohistory in Southwestern Alaska and the Southern Yukon (1970); William S. Laughlin, Aleuts (1981).

Aleut .... {uh-loot' or al'-ee-oot^
The people known as the Aleuts are the native inhabitants of the islands stretching for about 1,800 km (1,100 mi) southwestward from the Alaskan mainland and now called the Aleutian Islands.

They also inhabit part of western Alaska. The Russians first called these maritime hunters "Aleuts," the meaning of which is unknown; their name for themselves is unangan ("the people"). Although racially and ethnically related to the ESKIMO, the Aleuts have their own language and culture. Before contact with outsiders in the 18th century, they lived in scattered villages, each consisting of several semisubterranean houses, and had a class system that included nobles and slaves. They practiced a form of bilateral descent and followed instructions of local SHAMANS regarding hunting taboos and coping with sickness. The Aleuts were adept at harvesting resources of the sea (sea lion, seals, whales, and fish) in their skin-covered boats as well as those of the land (birds, eggs, and plants). Their hunting skills were exploited by Russian fur traders who came to the islands after about 1750 in search of sea otter, fur seals, and foxes. Over next 100 years the Aleut population declined because of sickness and harsh treatment. Today about 8,000 Aleuts remain; before contact with foreigners they had a population estimated at 12,000 to 25,000.

Aleut & Alutiiq Culture of the Aleutian Region


Aleut Hunter.
Aleut men honored the sea mammal spirits by wearing highly decorated hunting costumes.