Aleut - Orientation

Identification. The origin of the name "Aleut" is unCertain. It is possibly derived from the Olutorski tribe, on the Olutorsk River, in northeast Kamchatka, and was applied by early Russian fur hunters to residents of the Aleutian Islands. But it may instead be derived from the Chukchee word for "island," aliat. Finally, it is possible that "Aleut" comes from the name the westernmost Aleuts, on Attu Island, used to refer to themselves, "Aliut," which was then extended eastward by the Russians. Today, Aleuts infrequently refer to themselves with the Aleut word "Unangin" (or "Angagin"), meaning approximately "we, the people."

Location. At the time of initial Russian contact in 1741, Aleuts occupied all the Aleutian Islands west to Attu Island, the western tip of the Alaska Peninsula, and the Shumagin Islands south of the Alaska Peninsula. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Aleuts were settled on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. Today, some thirteen Aleut villages remain, mostly in the Pribilofs and eastern Aleutians.

Demography. At contact, there were an estimated twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Aleuts, but this number quickly and dramatically declined in the first decades of Russian Occupation. Today fewer than two thousand live in several small communities in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, while approximately another fifteen hundred reside elsewhere in Alaska or other states.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Aleut language belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut (or Eskaleut) language family. Eastern, Central, and western dialects existed until quite recently; now only the first two are spoken to any degree, and those mostly by adults.

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