to Offer Postwar Pioneers?
Are the People Like?
Alaskans come from every state in the
Union and many were born in Alaska itself. They have a higher standard of living
than is the average in the States. Able to bear up under hardships in remote districts,
they demand and get comfort or even luxury in their towns. Alaskans have considerable
staying power, much independence of thought and action, and a liking for a good
joke, verbal or practical. Many are familiar with frontiers in other lands such
as South America and Russia, and because of the long winters and the loneliness
of many settlements, a great many Alaskans have a surprising familiarity with
the world of books.
The most recent census, taken in 1939, recorded 39,170
whites in Alaska. Of these, 8,786 were of foreign birth. The northern European
strain is strong among foreign-born Alaskansthe majority being Norwegian,
Swedish, or Finnish.
The original Alaskans were probably
Eastern peoples who in prehistoric times crossed the Bering Strait and made their
way along the Aleutian chain in successive waves, becoming the ancestors of the
American Indians. The descendants of these first settlers are the Eskimos, Aleuts,
and Alaskan Indians of today. Altogether they numbered 32,458 in 1939. Most of
the natives in remoter settlements live in rather primitive fashion, but increasing
numbers are attending school and college and entering the trades and professions.
young couples from Alaska or the States spend a year or more as government teachers
of the natives in a federal school. The pay is low and the life not easy, but
for the right kind of person it is a rich and satisfying experience.
are more numerous than Aleuts or Indians. They are a sturdy folk, more than 15,000
strong, living for the most part in the Arctic and the Bering coastal region.
Consequently, you can live in parts of Alaska for years without seeing an Eskimo
Alaskan Eskimos do not live in story-book dome-shaped houses of
ice and snow, but in solid igloos (houses) of wood or bone and earth. They market
the proceeds of their hunting and fishing through cooperative stores, which they
own and manage under federal supervision. From the hides they make handsome parkas,
mukluks (boots), and other articles of clothing.
Eskimos are intelligent,
with a natural aptitude for drawing, map-making, carving, and mechanical repairing.
They are honest, adaptable, and full of fun. Since they adopted the white mans
diet and housing, they have been ravaged by tuberculosis, only partly checked
by the white mans hospitals and nursing service.
The Aleuts number
about 5,500 according to the last census. This is all that is left of a once-great
nation that counted some 25,000 residents of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians.
Originally they were related in blood and customs to the Eskimos, but the Aleut
today has much Russian blood and also other Occidental strains. They were converted
by the Russians to Christianity and still worship today in Russian Orthodox churches,
with characteristic turnip- and carrot-shaped towers.
Aleuts are excellent
seamen and live by fishing and fur farming. They are noted for their delicate
grass baskets, the finest of which may take a year to weave. Most famous were
the baskets made on Attu, westernmost of the Aleutians. In recent years, the tradition
of basket weaving has been dying out.
About 500 Aleuts are sealers, living
on the Pribilof Islands, where their ancestors were originally settled by the
Russians to hunt the seal. Evacuated in 1941, they were recently brought back
in government ships to resume sealing.
More than 11,000 Alaskan Indians
live in interior and southeastern Alaska.
About 5,000 Athapascans, relatives
of our Plains Indians, live in the interior in small villages, existing by fishing
Most numerous of southeastern Alaskan Indians are the Tlingits,
about 5,000 in number, carvers of totem poles, builders of fine wooden houses
and great-beamed ceremonial halls, huntsmen and fishermen. They live today by
fishing, fur farming and trapping, and carving.
Visitors usually buy small
replicas of one of the forty-foot cedar totem poles which are the Tlingits
family trees. The originals were set before the houses of the clans, to represent
the animal symbolizing the clan and to record important events and heroes of family
history. Nowadays, it is no longer a chief, but a business or a community organization
which commissions the carving of a full-sized totem pole by a native carver. The
job takes several weeks and costs several hundred dollars.
the Tlingits from British Columbia, the Haida Indians number about 700 and live
on the southern side of Prince of Wales Island.
Most Tsimshian Indians,
who also came from British Columbia, live in their cooperative town of Metlakatla,
where they operate a cannery and a fishing fleet. There are about 1,000 Tsimshians.
Who Built Alaska?