Samalga, Fox Islands

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Samalga, Fox Islands

by | Jul 27, 2019

Samalga Island is about 5.36 miles (8.63 km) long and is the westernmost of the Fox Islands group of the eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The island is located southwest of Umnak Island and east of the Islands of Four Mountains, separated by Samalga Pass. The Aleut name was first published by Lieutenant Sarichev of the Imperial Russian Navy as “Ostrov Samalga” or “Samalga Island”. In 1794, Father Veniaminov reported an Aleut settlement here with not less than 400 people, but today the island is uninhabited.

The Aleuts (or Unangax) were the first to inhabit the Aleutian Islands around 9,000 years ago. Prior to the arrival of Russians, the Aleuts lived a subsistence, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Men traditionally hunted sea otters, sea lions, whales, and seals from one-man and two-man boats called iqayax, generally recognized as a precursor to the modern kayak. These slender boats were made of animal skin (usually sealskin) stretched over a whalebone frame and propelled by a double-blade paddle. The Aleuts first encountered Russians in 1741, when an expedition led by Vitus Bering reached the islands. The Russians quickly established control over the Aleut villages, and over the next few years, they organized a hunting serfdom, exploiting the skill of indigenous hunters to collect sea otter pelts. In 1763, a group of Aleuts rebelled against their colonizers, destroying four Russian ships in Unalaska. The Russians retaliated by destroying Aleut villages on Umnak, Samalga, and the Islands of Four Mountains. Thereafter, the Aleut population steeply decline and just 50 years after first European contact, Aleuts were reduced from 25,000 to only 2,000 people.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries across Siberia and into Alaska, and soon Aleuts were being baptized into the church. Russian Orthodoxy quickly became the dominant religion of the region and missionaries provided some protection from exploitation by fur traders, as well as medicines and literacy. Today, a strong Russian influence remains particularly in the Aleut vocabulary, Russian foods, and Orthodox churches. Since the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, which transferred land claims from the federal government to Alaska Natives, regional and village corporations have re-established guardianship over local lands and communities. Read more here and here. Explore more of Samalga here:

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