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The Aleuts for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 28

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The Aleuts are an illustrative example of the Native American Societies before European Contact topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



Aleuts
Aleuts/public domain


The history of the Aleut people extends back thousands of years. Their ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia and settled in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska around 9,000 years ago. In their villages, classes emerged, including nobles, commoners, and enslaved people. Nobles held positions of authority and prestige, often tracing their lineage through maternal lines. Commoners comprised the majority of the population, while slaves, typically captives from rival tribes or prisoners of war, occupied the lowest rung of the social hierarchy.


Villages were clustered near bays and freshwater sources, providing access to vital sustenance and transportation resources. Leadership was decentralized, with one chief presiding over multiple villages. Chiefs were selected based on their wisdom, experience, and diplomatic skills. They were tasked with maintaining harmony within the community and negotiating with neighboring tribes.


Extended families among the Aleuts resided in communal dwellings known as barabaras. These structures, constructed with a combination of sod, driftwood, and whalebone, provided shelter from the harsh Arctic climate. Barabaras were semi-subterranean, offering insulation and stability against the elements.


Men played a crucial role in the survival of their families by hunting seals, sea otters, whales, sea lions, caribou, and bears. They utilized kayaks for individual hunting expeditions and umiaks, larger skin boats, for group hunts. Meanwhile, women contributed to the household economy by gathering fish, birds, mollusks, and wild plants, including berries. They employed smoking techniques to preserve meat for long winters, enhancing its flavor and shelf life.


Trade played a vital role in Aleut society, fostering economic exchange and cultural interaction among neighboring tribes and distant civilizations. The Aleuts engaged in extensive trade networks across the North Pacific, establishing relationships with indigenous groups such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian along the Alaskan coast and the Northwest Coast of North America. These trade routes facilitated the exchange of valuable resources such as sea otter pelts, ivory, and seafood for tools, textiles, and ceremonial items. Additionally, trade with inland tribes such as the Athabaskan peoples provided access to essential resources from the interior, including furs, copper, and decorative goods. This interconnected web of trade routes bolstered the economy of Aleut villages and promoted cultural exchange and diplomatic alliances, enriching the fabric of Aleut society.


In 1741, Russian explorer Vitus Bering arrived in Aleutian waters, marking the beginning of a tumultuous chapter in Aleut history. Russian colonizers soon followed, seeking to exploit the region’s lucrative fur trade. The Aleuts were coerced into serving as serfs and subjected to harsh labor conditions and exploitation by Russian fur traders. This exploitation, coupled with the introduction of foreign diseases, decimated Aleut populations, with an estimated 90% of the indigenous population succumbing to epidemics and mistreatment. The Russian occupation left a lasting legacy of cultural disruption and loss, reshaping the social and economic fabric of Aleut society for generations to come.



Printable Reading Passage for the Aleuts


The Aleuts


Do you want to watch a video about the Aleut?




Native American Societies Before European Contact

Period 1

AP U.S. History



The Aleuts


References

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Aleut”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Sep. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aleut. Accessed 27 March 2024.

“Aleut.” New World Encyclopedia, . 17 Jun 2023, 05:11 UTC. 27 Mar 2024, 16:16 <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Aleut&oldid=1114952>.Accessed 27 March 2024.

Wallenfeldt, Jeff. “Aleut Culture.” Eastern Aleutian Tribes, www.eatribes.org/culture/aleut-culture/. Accessed 27 Mar. 2024.

Veltre, Douglas W. “Unangax̂: Coastal People of Far Southwestern Alaska.” Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, www.apiai.org/departments/cultural-heritage-department/culture-history/history/. Accessed 27 Mar. 2024.

“Aleut.” Britannica Kids, kids.britannica.com/scholars/article/Aleut/5577. Accessed 27 Mar. 2024.

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 28

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