Yupik and Aleut
The aboriginal people who traditionally lived on the Aleutian
Islands, Alaska Peninsula, lower Kenai Peninsula, and along the
coast of Prince William Sound called themselves "Aleuts." Linguists
say that the Aleut languages and the languages of the Yupik on the
mainland are similar enough to regard Aleut and Yupik as one group
of people. There are language and physiological similarities but
there are also some differences. The Aleut were entirely coastal
and maritime people. The Yupik, too, relied on the ocean and
rivers for their livelihood, but they were not the seagoing people
the Aleuts were.
The homeland of the Yupik people is in the drainage area of two great westward flowing rivers, which drain into to Bering Sea: the Yukon River, and the Kuskokwim River. The boundary between Yupik and Inupiaq country was in Norton Sound, between the mouth of the Yukon River, and the Seward Peninsula. They lived mainly in the lower portion of the Yukon River but well into the interior of Alaska along the Kuskokwim River. As river drainage's, their homelands are flat tundra dotted with thousands and thousands of lakes. The landscape was flat and largely treeless tundra.
Although there were land mammals such as moose and caribou, the Yupik people relied mainly on fish and sea mammals for their livelihood. Great salmon runs migrated up the Yukon and the Kuskokwim River in the summer and they were caught and dried for winter use. Other kinds of fish were available such as cod, tom cod, halibut, and herring. In edition, they utilized both seals and walrus which were plentiful along the Bering Sea coast. Subsistence was a constant struggle against the elements, however, the Yupik people thrived. And when the federal government settled with Alaskan Natives and paid them for their land losses, the Yupik people had more villages in their area, then any other Alaskan Native group.
Their traditionally houses were semi-subterranean. They would find a dry area, dig down into the ground, built a wooden structure, which projected out of the ground, and then cover it with earth and sod. They built a tunnel in the same manner to the doorway of their dwellings. The area was cold and windy in the winter and these structures helped to save the warmth.
The Aleuts lived in two distinctly different settings. The Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula are tundra lands without trees. The Kodiak highlands, Kenai Peninsula, and the Prince William Sound on the other hand are mountainous rain forests. This area, which borders the North Pacific ocean has relatively mild temperatures, whoever, unlimited supply of wood and used it in building their homes.
The Aleut people relied primarily on fish and sea mammals for their livelihood, just as the Yupik people did. The greatest red salmon run in the world comes into Bristol Bay where they migrate up the river to Lake Clark and Lake Iliamna to spawn. Another great salmon run goes up the Copper river just to the east of Prince William Sound. The Aleut people relied heavily on salmon for their livelihood. But seal meat was also mainstay in their diet.
The belief system of the Yupik and Aleut, as with other aboriginal Alaskans, was what anthropologists call "naturalistic" as opposed to "deistic." In the deistic system of Christian people, the important relationship is between the people and their god. In the naturalistic systems of tribal people, the important relationship was between all animal beings and a supernatural spirit. For them, all living beings had spirits. Although the people relied on animals for their foods, they had great respect of all animals and for their spirits. Throughout Alaska, Raven was an important figure in the lore of the people. Raven, human beings, and other animals were represented in the distinctive masks carved by Yupik people. The fine art represented in these masks has only recently been recognized as a highly developed art form.
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