Aleut Tribe

Aleut man and woman

The Aleut Tribe
Summary and Definition: The Aleut tribe were nomadic fishermen and hunters of the Arctic cultural group. The Aleut tribe live in the Aleutian Islands and the western portion of the Alaska Peninsula of northwestern North America. The Aleut people used kayaks for transportation and fishing and lived in semi-subterranean, sod-covered, structures called barabaras.

Facts about the Aleut Native Indian Tribe: Lifestyle and Culture
Their name is derived from the Aleut word 'allithuh' meaning "coastal people" but they were called Aleut by Russian fur traders. At one time they were referred to as "Eskimo" which was a general used to described the Aleut, Yupik and Inuit people. The people call themselves "Unangan". The Aleutian Islands, with their 57 volcanoes, consist of a chain of 14 large and 55 small islands. The Aleutian Islands of Alaska comprise of five groups: the Fox Islands, the Islands of Four Mountains, Andreanof Islands, Rat Islands and the Near Islands. The chief source of food for the Aleut people were whales, sea lions, seals and walruses. Different types of fish, and shellfish were also part of their diet, as were wildfowl and Arctic birds. The Aleut lived in sod-covered houses called barabaras.

What language did the Aleut tribe speak?
The Aleut language belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut language family and includes three dialects: Eastern Aleut, Shumagin spoken on the Fox and Pribilof Islands and the Atkan dialect , spoken on Atka and Bering islands.

Where did the Aleut tribe live?
The Aleut are people of the Arctic Native American cultural group. The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Aleut tribe.

  • Climate and Land: The climate of the Aleutian islands is oceanic, with moderate and fairly uniform temperatures with frequent fogs, high winds and heavy rainfall with a volcanic landscape.
  • Animals: The  animals included beaver, seal, sea lions, fox, arctic hare, whale, otter, walrus and Artic birds
  • Natural Resources: Fish, shellfish, clams, plants, kelp and wild celery
  • Transport: Leather-covered, watertight canoes and open fishing boats such as the Aleut Kayaks

What did the Aleut tribe live in?
The Aleut people lived in semi-subterranean, sod-covered, arched-roofed structures called barabaras. The features of the Barabara style of house were as follows:

  • A Barabara was an oblong, semi-subterranean, sod-covered, arched-roofed structure, similar to the pit houses built by Native American Indians
  • Barabaras varied in size but it was not unusual for large houses to be built measuring 50 feet long by 20 feet wide to accommodate a family of 20people
  • Whale bones or wooden beams, generally driftwood,  were set into the floor to support walls and the roof
  • Grass mats were placed on top of the beams and then covered with layers of sod (pieces of turf)
  • A square opening was left in the roof by which access to the barabara was gained using a ladder. The roof opening also provided light and air
  • The interior of the barabara consisted of one large room with a communal area and a hearth for cooking. Around the sides were partitioned sections and storage facilities created by grass mat dividers

What clothes did the Aleut wear?
The clothes, mitts and boots worn by the Aleut tribe were made from animal skins and furs from sea lion or sea otter skins. Bird feathers and puffin skins were also used when making clothing.  Both men and women wore long tunics often accompanied by loose pants. In the winter the Aleut wore fur-lined, hooded coats called "parkas". For fishing trips in their kayaks the men would wear a light, waterproof coat, generally made from sea otter intestine, called a Kamleika. In the winter they wore soft Mukluk boots made from sealskin. In the summer it was not unusual for the Aleut to go barefoot.

What forms of transport did the Aleut tribe use?
The Aleut tribe used a small, narrow boat called a baidarka or a kayak for transportation and fishing trips. The kayak was lightweight, highly manoeuvrable and made using a wooden (driftwood) or whalebone frame covered with sealskin or sea lion skin sewn with sinew. The Aleut developed skills of righting a capsized kayak with, or without, the use of a paddle (called a kayak roll).

What food did the Aleut eat?
The staple diet of the Aleut were fish products and shellfish. These were supplemented by the meat obtained from sea animals such as the seal, whale and sea lions. The Aleut ate a great variety of shellfish including crab, shrimp, mussels and clams. Food was also obtained from birds such as ducks, cormorants, emperor geese, albatross and puffins. The abundance of birds also provided food in the form of bird eggs. Types of fish included Pacific cod, halibut, salmon and trout. The protein foods were supplemented with berries, roots, and edible plants such as kelp and wild celery.

Aleut History Timeline
The following Aleut history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks and battles fought by the Aleut Nation. The history timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe.

Aleut History Timeline

  • 1000 CE: The Aleut are the descendants of the Thule culture, who emerged after crossing from Siberia, and moved eastward across the Arctic

  • 1648: Russian Semeon Dezhnev sails through Bering Strait and lands in the Diomede Islands

  • 1732: Russian explorers M.S. Gvozdev and Ivan Fedorov make the first recorded contact with the Aleuts

  • 1741: Vitus Bering, captain of the Russian ship the St. Peter, sends men ashore on Kayak Island

  • 1766: Catherine the Great sent Russian explorers and settlers to Alaska and claimed Alaska as part of Russia

  • 1770's: Russian fur traders arrived in the Arctic and exploit the Aleut, giving rise to many conflicts

  • 1771: Captain James Cook leaves Great Britain on his third major expedition to the North Pacific and maps much of the southern coast of Alaska in 1778

  • 1784: The Aleut mount a rebellion against Russian fur traders at Amchitka on the Rat Island group

  • 1794: The First Russian Orthodox missionaries arrive at Kodiak from Russia

  • 1836: Smallpox, measles, chicken pox, and whooping-cough epidemics are suffered amongst the Aleuts (1836-1839)

  • 1850: The Great Age of Unangan (Aleut) Literacy begins (1850-1900)

  • 1866: The Aleut population drops by 25% following the epidemics

  • 1867: The Alaska Purchase was made by the United States of America from Russia for $7.2 million

  • 1868: January 4 1868 the Alaska Commercial Company is established

  • 1880: The Indian Affairs Department was established

  • 1886: Native languages are disallowed in public schools

  • 1912: August 24, 1912 Sea-otter hunting is stopped by U.S. law

  • 1942: The Japanese attack the Aleutian Islands during WW2

  • 1959: Alaska becomes the 49th state

Aleut History Timeline

Native American Indian Tribes
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