Tigalda, Krenitzin Islands

Tigalda, Krenitzin Islands

by | Nov 3, 2021

Tigalda Island is 12 miles (19 km) long with an area of about 22,400 acres (9,065 ha) and is one of the Krenitzin Islands in the Eastern Aleutians, about 84 miles (135 km) southwest of False Pass and 28 miles (45 km) east of Akutan, Alaska. The island was called ‘Kagalga’ by Captain Lieutenant Pyotr Kuzmich Krenitsyn and Lieutenant Mikhail D. Levashev who explored and mapped over 30 islands in the Aleutians in 1768–69. The name ‘Tigalda’ was derived from the Aleut “Tigalga” or “Kagalga” by Captain Friedrich Benjamin von Lütke and was first published in 1836 on Imperial Russian Navy charts. The Krenitzin Islands are part of the Fox Islands and include Aiktak, Avatanak, Derbin, Kaligagan, Rootok, Round, Tigalda, and Ugamak Islands. All these islands are managed as part of the Aleutian Islands Unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The first non-natives to visit these islands were probably shipwrecked Japanese fishermen in the early 18th century, and in 1741, the first Europeans arrived when the Danish navigator Vitus Bering, employed by the Imperial Russian Navy, was searching for new sources of sea otters to supply the maritime fur trade. Foggy almost all year round, the islands are difficult to navigate due to constantly adverse weather, numerous reefs, and as with the other Aleutian Islands, this area is prone to frequent earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Aleutian Islands are part of a large volcanic arc that consists of a number of active and dormant volcanoes formed as a result of subduction along the Aleutian Trench of the Pacific Plate beneath the North American Plate. The Aleutian Arc is part of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands and separates the Bering Sea from the North Pacific Ocean. It extends 1,900 miles (3,000 km) from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the west to the Gulf of Alaska in the east. Unimak Pass at the southwestern end of the Alaska Peninsula marks the eastern transition from an intra-oceanic arc in the west to a continental arc in the east. On the Pacific side, it is parallelled by the Aleutian Trench which is about 2,112 miles (3,400 km) long, extending from the Kurile-Kamchatka trench eastward to the Gulf of Alaska and varying in depth from 2,400 fathoms (4,389 m) in the east to 4,000 fathoms (7,315 m) in the west. The Bering Sea is on the north side of the island arc and is relatively shallow with a depth gradient increasing from east to west. The two seas mix, with cold water of the Bering Sea and warm water of the Pacific Ocean, through and along the inter-island passes in complex and varied patterns dependent on the sea and wind currents. The dominant direction of water flow throughout the archipelago is from south to north, or from the Pacific into the Bering Sea. The weather is generally better on the northern shore of the islands which also has much less fog, and historically most of the Aleut settlements were located on the Bering Sea coast. The island shorelines are for the most part very exposed and much of the coastline cannot support human habitat. On the Pacific side of the large eastern islands, tectonic uplift and erosion combine to form dangerous rock-bound shorelines open to tsunamis generated anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.

The present Unangan Aleut population of the Krenitzin Islands now resides in the village of Akutan, but historically there were settlements on most of the islands. These people were Unangan Aleuts called ‘Qigeron‘ with their own dialect and claimed a territory between the islands of Unimak to the east and Unalaska to the west. The islands occupied by the Qigeron are documented by historical and archaeological records and include Ugamak, Aiktak, Tigalda, Avatanak, Tanginak, Akun, Rootok, and Akutan. According to the Russian missionary Ivan Veniaminov, the population of the Krenitzin Islands was relatively large prior to European contact but then was quickly decimated by diseases, massacres, internecine skirmishes, and hunting accidents. Prior to 1741, there were 7 villages on Akutan representing at least 600 inhabitants, 8 villages on Akun comprising more than 500 inhabitants, Avatanak had been rather less populated with 3 villages with a combined population of 90 inhabitants. On Tigalda there had been 5 villages totaling at least 500 inhabitants, Ugamak had a village of maybe 80 inhabitants, and Aaktah or Goloi, south of Akun, had about 30 inhabitants. Thus, the Qigeron were distributed over 25 villages, with close to 1,800 people. In 1828, Veniaminov visited the islands and there were no more than 6 villages, one on Akutan with 13 inhabitants, Akun had 3 villages including Chulka totaling 85 inhabitants, Avatanak had one village with 49 inhabitants, and Tigalda had one remaining village at Tigalda Bay with 91 inhabitants and had increased its population when 18 people from Ugamak arrived in 1826. The rest were uninhabited. In 1871, the Frenchman, Alphonse Pinard, explored all the islands from Unalaska to Kodiak by baidarka with an Aleut crew and did not encounter anyone on Akutan. At Chulka, a village on Akun Island, he saw about 20 huts and a chapel, and the other islands in the Krenitzin group were uninhabited. Tigalda was progressively abandoned and its population moved to Avatanak and to Akun. Then in its turn, Avatanak was abandoned and its inhabitants went to Akun. Around 1885, Akun, or more precisely the village of Chulka, was almost totally comprised of the remaining survivors of the Qigeron. In 1879, the opening of a trading post at the site of the present village of Akutan gradually attracted the last descendants of the Qigeron. At the very end of the 19th century, Akutan was the only permanent village whose site was chosen for reasons of modern navigation and not for the availability of local resources. It seems that at no other previous time had there been a permanent Aleut village at this site. Read more here and here. Explore more of Tigalda and the Krenitzin Islands here:

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