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Coming of the White Man

"We were many now we are few!"

The Aleuts were considered to have advanced medical skills because they had the ability to mummify a body, and they had knowledge of and names for the major internal organs. Mummification, like that in the Egyptian pyramids, was accomplished by using the geothermal conditions found in neighboring volcanic caves and islands -- believed to help in the drying process and the preservation of the mummy.

"We were many now we are few!" Is the cry of the Aleut people to themselves. It's meaning begins before contact with the white man. "We were many", just as it states, means the Aleut before contact were a large and noble people -- not without infractions between themselves. Population was estimated between fifteen and eighteen thousand people at time of contact. Along with white man, came disease, slavery, depletion of the food supply, change from the subsistence economy to a cash economy.

Basically we have seen a steady and systematic genocide of the Aleut culture, language, art, and being since the time of contact. To where the Aleut say. "Now we are few." Where there are only a few thousand now. With factions of language and culture falling into extinction with each passing day. -- like the Eyak.

Disease was, and in many cases still is, the main killer of the Aleut. White man's diseases brought over by the Russian Promyshleniks seeking plunder and riches killed much of the population within twenty years.

The Aleut was no stranger to the idea of slavery. They themselves would take captives, usually female, to do the hard labor tasks, sometimes keeping them bearfooted to hinder the slave from fleeing. The Russians would take both male and female: the males that were taken would hunt for the seal, sea lion, and otter for their pelts. Soon depleting the food supply. the females were taken to replenish the lack of women in Siberia. Some of these attempts were fruitful and some disastrous.

If the Russians didn't take captives, in some cases, they killed everyone -- by the turn of the 19th century less then 20 percent of the Aleut population had survived the Russian on-slot.

After the food supply had dwindled due to depletion, the Russian influence became ever more important to the Aleut. Without food the Aleut had to barter for the things he needed instead of recycling it from the wild. This changing of economies from a subsistence to a cash economy has yet to be fully mastered by the Alaska Native.

That is why the Aleut cry "We were many now we are few!" Along with the loss of the Aleut, the loss of their laughter, language, and dance is greatly missed too.

By: William Chapman (Fat Dan)


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Raven and His Grandmother
Two Inquisitive Men
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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.