Alutiiq Natives in Old Harbor, 1888. National Archives.
The Kodiak environment, with its rich marine waters, rocky shores, and verdant meadows, has provided food and raw materials for hunting and gathering societies for many thousands of years. Kodiak's first settlers were undoubtedly attracted to the region by the sea mammals, seabirds, fish, and shellfish that formed the foundation of a rich subsistence lifestyle. Alaska is one of the most culturally diverse regions of North America. There are three racially distinct Native population in our state - Aleut, Eskimo, and Indian - each with a unique history. This diversity reflects Alaska's position at the crossroads between Asia and the Americas.
Archaeologists believe that modern Native Americans are descended from Asiatic peoples that walked or paddled into Alaska at the end of the last great ice age. This gradual migration began about 12,000 years ago. Some settlers made Alaska their home, while others spread south and east, rapidly populating all of North and South America, from the northern-most reaches of the Canadian Archipelago to the southern tip of Chile.
Over thousands of years, Alaska's Native people adapted to the range of unique environments in our large and ecologically diverse state. Today there are six major Native Alaskan groups; the Aleut, Alutiiq, Yup'ik, Inupiaq, Athabaskan, and Northwest Coast Indians. The Kodiak Archipelago, and the surrounding regions of Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, and the Alaska Peninsula are home to the Alutiiq.
Anthropologists classify the Alutiiq as an Eskimo people, as their culture and language are most closely related to those of the Yup'ik and Inupiaq. In prehistoric times, the Alutiiq shared many items of technology with other northern coastal peoples. They built sod houses which were lit by stone oil lamps. They hunted sea mammals from skin covered kayaks equipped with sophisticated harpoons. They wore waterproof clothing stitched from seal intestines, beach grass, and sinew. Additionally, the Alutiiq speak Alutiiq, one of six Eskimo languages.
Today, the Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers continue to perform in the tradition of their ancestors. Dressed in "snow-falling" parkas and beautiful beaded headdresses trimmed with ermine fur they sing and dance to the beat of a skin drum. Songs sung in the Alutiiq language tell both traditional and contemporary stories.
Open to the public since May of 1995, the Alutiiq Museum cares for one of the largest collections of Eskimo artifacts in its state-of-the-art facility. By working with the community and other anthropologists, the Alutiiq Museum continues to collect and preserve Alutiiq cultural materials. The museum also encourages and supports research, and disseminates the result of this research to the public through educational outreach, exhibits, special events, publications and lectures.