The Unangan had lived on the wild and remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska for thousands of years after their epic journey across the ancient land bridge from Asia. They lived by the sea and were successful. This was all about to change for these people known as Aleut today.
THE WHALE HUNTER:
It was early morning and the damp cold breeze from the Bering Sea was blowing in my face. I, along with other hunters, stood by our kayaks with harpoons ready to begin the big chase. Whales had been seen on the north tip of the island near the big rock. To hunt the whale was dangerous and not everyone returns even though the Shaman had given us his blessing. The whale is big and powerful and our boats are small; yet, we hunt as a pack and succeed many times in bringing this huge animal to shore. But I knew I would be safe because I had a sacred amulet around my neck that would protect me from harmful spirits.
I was about to place my kayak in the water when I saw entering the bay a large ship with many sails coming straight for my village. Not a word was spoken as we stood in awe and wonderment. The big boat came to a stop not far from shore and lowered its sails. Within moments we saw a flash of white smoke from the boat, than a loud deafening boom, followed by one of our dwellings blown apart.
A small boat was then lowered over the side full of men and our people scattered in terror as they approached the beach. One of our hunters ran down the beach to the small boat to try and stop the men from coming ashore, when one of them aimed at him with his long stick. A loud blast and the hunter lay dead. We had no such weapons to protect ourselves and we knew that to refuse meant death. Everything was in chaos as the men from the boat rounded up all the people in our village and separated the men from the women and children.
We were in a state of shock as we men were put in the small boat and taken to the big ship along with our kayaks. It was then we learned that to protect our families from harm we had to hunt the otter for its fur. To refuse meant the destruction of our families. Every morning we set out in our kayaks and every evening we returned to the ship with otters we had taken that day. All was hopeless for us and we did not know what to do since there was no one we could summon for help. My amulet handed down throughout history always kept me safe while hunting the whale but was not able to over-come the spirit of the big ship. I never saw my family again and knew my life was at an end.
Such was the fate of the people of the Aleutian Islands in the 1750’s when Russian traders descended on a land rich in otter and seal fur. People through out the world were waiting for these furs and how they were obtained made little difference. The greed for fur closed everyone’s eyes except for the lonely whale hunter....