Clarifying Contexts

An Overview of Ethnographers

Since colonization, several ethnographers have collected stories from Kodiak Alutiiq peoples. These researchers have helped document our understanding of Alutiiq literature and worldview. 

To gain a historical perspective on their documentation efforts, this section of the website explores the backgrounds, influences, and accomplishments of the researchers who collected Alutiiq stories. As most early researchers were greatly influenced by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny in how or what they wrote about Alutiiq peoples and their stories, it also seeks to evaluate the validity and scope of their writing to clarify where the stories they collected came from and how we might view them today. This section responds to questions such as:

What motivations and background experiences influenced their edits of the stories in written form?
What among the stories collected are true to their original telling?
Who were their informants or how did they learn what they wrote?

Each ethnographer profile is intended to establish a background knowledge of the history behind the collection of Alutiiq stories so that current and future audiences are better able to evaluate, use, and enjoy Alutiiq literature. The goal is to assist teachers and families who are without an established relationship or ready access to an Alutiiq storyteller in how they make selections, understand the possible meanings or intentions behind the stories, and to consider the historical context that influenced how each story was filtered by those who collected them. Ultimately, the documented stories available to us will hopefully inspire current and future Alutiiq generations to revitalize oral storytelling traditions, drawing from the best of what is available to us and encouraging our Elders to share stories that have not yet been documented.

The earliest known documentation of Alutiiq stories was by Captain Urey Lisiansky in 1804-1805 and Hieromonk Gideon in 1804-1807, albeit in summary. Around the same time Davydov also experienced Alutiiq poetry, as he describes it, but did not document any specific story in his journals. Henrik Johan Holmberg followed in 1851 to document an evolved origin story and several other stories as told by Arsenti Aminak. In 1872, Alphonse Pinart was the first to collect a comprehensive collection of mask songs and origin stories. Thirty years later, Frank A. Golder published his collection of stories documented from informants in Unga during his term as the village’s school teacher. Together all of these early observers and colonists have contributed greatly to preserving Alutiiq literature of the nineteenth century.

In the twentieth century up to today there have been several contemporary Alutiiq storytellers who shared their life stories, along with other researchers who have developed oral history collections. The summaries of contributions by historic researchers is organized chronologically within the major eras of Alutiiq history, shown in the following visual timelines. These timelines are intended to place major events contributing to Alutiiq written language and storytelling documentation within the larger context of Alutiiq colonial history. The first timeline depicts events since contact, and the second shows more recent during the Alutiiq renaissance. While traditional storytelling continues to some degree as an oral tradition today on Kodiak, this dissertation is focused on exploring stories previously recorded in print (published or unpublished) and those archived in audio and video formats as they can be easily misinterpreted when viewed outside of a historical context or without knowledge of how they have been edited.