Several thousand years ago, before European explorers discovered the shores of the Aleutian Islands, they were inhabited by the “Unangas” (Aleut people).
Aleut / Unangan
The Aleut are are the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, United States and Kamchatka Krai, Russia. They call themselves Unanga, meaning “original people.” The plural form, Unangan translates to “seasider.”
Russian fur traders gave the name Aleut to the Unangan in the mid-18th century. This term was adopted by other Europeans who learned from the Russians. The Unangan Aleuts are not to be confused with the Alutiiq, a nearby Southern Yupik group, who were also referred to as “Aleuts” by the Russians, and are still often called Aleuts today.
The Aleut language belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut language family.
While English and Russian are the dominant languages used by Aleuts living in the United States and Russia respectively, the Aleut language is still spoken by an estimated 150 people in the United States and 500 people in Russia.
The language includes three dialect groupings:
Eastern Aleut, spoken on the Eastern Aleutian, Shumagin, Fox and Pribilof Islands
Atkan, spoken on Atka and Bering islands
The now extinct Attuan dialect.
Attuan dialect and speaking tribes:
Sasignan (in Attuan dialect) / Sasxinan (in Eastern dialect) / Sasxinas (in Western dialect) or Near Islanders : in the Near Islands (Attu, Agattu, Semichi).
Kasakam Unangangis (in Aleut, lit. «Russian Aleut») or Copper Island Aleut : in the Commander Islands of Russian Federation (Bering, Medny).
? Qax̂un or Rat Islanders : in the Buldir Island and Rat Islands (Kiska, Amchitka, Semisopochnoi).
Atkan dialect or Western Aleut or Aliguutax̂ (in Aleut) and speaking tribes:
Naahmiĝus or Delarof Islanders : in the Delarof Islands (Amatignak) and Andreanof Islands (Tanaga).
Niiĝuĝis or Andreanof Islanders : in the Andreanof Islands (Kanaga, Adak, Atka, Amlia, Seguam).
Eastern Aleut dialect and speaking tribes:
Akuuĝun or Uniiĝun or Islanders of the Four Mountains : in the Islands of Four Mountains (Amukta, Kagamil).
Qawalangin or Fox Islanders : in the Fox Islands (Umnak, Samalga, western part of Unalaska).
Qigiiĝun or Krenitzen Islanders : in the Krenitzin Islands (eastern part of Unalaska, Akutan, Akun, Tigalda).
Qagaan Tayaĝungin or Sanak Islanders : in the Sanak Islands (Unimak, Sanak).
Taxtamam Tunuu dialect of Belkofski.
Qaĝiiĝun or Shumigan Islanders : in the Shumagin Islands.
The Pribilof Islands boast the highest number of active speakers of Aleutian. Most of the Native elders speak Aleut, but it is very rare for younger people to speak the language fluently.
The Aleut population has dwindled drastically since European contact
Тhe Aleut people were distributed throughout the Aleutian Islands, the Shumagin Islands, and the far western part of the Alaska Peninsula, with an estimated population of around 25,000 before contact with Europeans. In the 1820s, the Russian-American Company administered a large portion of the North Pacific during a Russian-led expansion of the fur trade. They resettled many Aleut families to the Commander Islands (within the Aleutsky District of the Kamchatka Krai in Russia) and to the Pribilof Islands (in Alaska). These continue to have majority-Aleut communities.
The number of Aleut has dwindled to about 2,000, because they suffered high fatalities in the 19th and early 20th centuries from Eurasian infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. In addition, the population suffered as traditional lifestyles were disrupted. People of partial Aleut descent, many of whom identify as Aleut and continue the culture, may number around 15,000. Russian traders and later Europeans married many Aleut women.