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About the Tribe
Qaqamiiĝuˆx qalgadam ukulganaa ngiin ugutaasakun (Eastern dialect, Unangam tunuu). Qaqamiiĝuˆx qalgadaˆx anĝaĝiˆx ngiin aˆxtanaa akuˆx (Western dialect Unangam tunuu).
The Aleutian and Pribilof islands are home to an abundance of foods from the sea and land. Traditional Unanga-n/s foods, harvested from the land and sea, are an essential part of Unanga-n/s culture and livelihood and have been for thousands of years. Unanga-n/s have survived off of these foods for centuries and continue to harvest and prepare many of these foods today. The Unanga-n/s traditional diet historically depended on foods from the sea; seal, sea lion, whale, fish and tidal foods provided the majority of nutrients in the diet. Birds, plants, caribou, and later reindeer in some communities, were also important sources of food. All of these foods continue to be used today and are supplemented with store-bought foods. The recipes have changed dramatically over the years with the increased availability of store foods and the influence of different cultures.
Importance of Animal Products
Authentic Aleut Recipes that show their dependence upon animal foods:
Braided Seal Intestine
The intestine of seal is referred to as an’giˆx or chidgiˆx/ an’giˆx in Unangam tunuu. Seal intestine was one of the resources used in the past for making the hooded parka, or chigdaˆx (E). As a food item, the intestines of the seal can be used to prepare «braided seal gut» or An’gim chikuĝigan kiichkaĝii (E), an’gim amaĝii (A). Seal gut is usually braided by women, however few people know how to do it today. The gut from a small young seal, one to one and a half years old, is best to use for braiding because it is easier to handle and clean and it’s not as stringy as an older seal. It can be braided and stuffed with any parts of the seal, such as the heart, lungs, or kidney, but is typically braided with the fat [Atka]. Once the braided gut has been prepared, it is boiled, cooled, and then eaten with mustard. Lucy Kenezuroff learned how to braid seal gut from her dad, John Nevzuroff. Lucy was born in 1930 in King Cove to Annie Galishoff, and then moved to Belkofski. She came from a family of 13 kids. «I used to watch my dad braid seal gut. One time I was sitting out on the porch, my dad had strings all lined up to tie, to use for foxes and stuff. I took some of them strings, sit down and was putting them around my finger. That’s how I taught myself to braid seal gut. Using a rope». Lucy’s braided seal gut recipe has two ingredients: a cleaned gut of seal and seal fat, cut into strips. The end of the seal gut must be split open and scraped out until it is clean. This takes a lot of work. After it has been scraped, Lucy soaks the gut in salt water and continues to stir it and clean it further. Her parents used to get water out of the bay to soak the gut. The gut gets soaked in salt water for a day or two. Lucy cuts the fat into strips and stuffs it in the gut while she is braiding it. The fat helps keep the gut soft. After she is done braiding, she cuts the braided intestine into three pieces, each about a foot long, to cook it. It is then cooked in boiling water for about an hour, or until it is tender. She likes to eat it right after it is done cooking with some plain rice: «I don’t wait till it gets cold. I always dive in when it’s hot… it’s a real tender meat…it almost tastes like corned beef in a way.» While Lucy prefers to eat seal gut warm, some others prefer eating it cold with mustard.
Jellied Meat - Stuudinax:
Considered a delicacy by the Unanga-n/s, sea lion flippers can be cooked, fermented, or boiled and made into a dish called stuudinax. Stuudinax is a variation of head cheese, or meat jelly, that uses the natural gelatin found in the bones and cartilage of the flippers to gel. In the past, flippers were sometimes cooked until they came apart. When cooled they were sliced and eaten with potatoes, onions, other vegetables, bread, salt, pepper, and mustard. Some people ferment the flipper in a paper bag for up to ten days until the skin gets loose. Then, it is eaten right away or preserved in salt or frozen.
Importance of Plants
Chocolatie lily bulbs
Cow Parsnip, peeled stalks
https://www.apiai.org/community-services/traditional-foods-program/nutrition-information/ lists native plants, not surprisingly, the only supposed nutrition benefits are fiber and antioxidants, which are both myths.
Transition to Industrialized Food Products
Jan 1, 1741
The Aleuts lived on the land and drew some sustenance from it. Berries and herbs as well as a variety of birds and their eggs complemented their diet. Foxes and other small land animals were eaten, but these were not nearly as important a resource as the marine mammals.
It is not known with certainty when the Aleuts first migrated to the
wind-swept islands extending from the Alaska Peninsula westward for
over 1,000 miles. Archaeological evidence suggests that their ancestors,
as those of other North American aboriginals, originated in Asia, but that
they did not settle on the islands initially. Presumably, they crossed the
Bering Sea land bridge, then moved south along the Alaska coast and
eventually west to inhabit the chain of islands. That the Aleuts and
Eskimos had common ancestors seems clear; yet in the several thousand
years of adapting to their maritime environment they developed a
singular culture which diverged from that of mainland Eskimos,
Differences in language and customs evolved which stamped the Aleu!
culture as a highly distinctive one. These people flourished on their
volcanic islands by adapting their life pattern to the dictates of the sea. Of
all the people of northern Asia and North America, none has developed
so predominant a maritime culture as the Aleuts. The land resources of
the Aleutians are slender compared with those of the surrounding
waters- fantastically rich in fish and mammals-thus the island people
related more closely to the sea. In poctic truth, the Aleut once spoke of
"my brother, the sea otter."
Yet the Aleuts lived on the land and drew some sustenance from it.
Berries and herbs as well as a variety of birds and their eggs
complemented their diet. Foxes and other small land animals were eaten,
but these were not nearly as important a resource as the marine
mammals. Certain deities were associated with the things of the land,
while others belonged to the sea and its creatures. These two realms were
kept separate. If, for example, a hunter wanted to lighten the rock-ballast
in his kayak, he carried the rocks ashore. He would not dare anger the
sea gods by throwing the rocks into the water. Conversely, the bones of
the first sea mammal taken in a hunt could not be left on the land but had
to be returned to the sea. Land and sea spirits alike assisted the Aleuts'
sea hunting and were propitiated by colorful ceremonies enlivened by
music and dancing. Other spirits protected individuals as well. Dead
relatives and one's animal protector, having beneficial powers, lent special
meaning to carvings and designs on amulets and wooden headgear. Evil
spirits caused sickness and death. By raising supernatural power against
these, cures could be effected by shamans, gifted individuals who knew
how to deal with evil. Shamans crafted the sacred masks which were a
feature of various rituals.
Such Aleut beliefs and ceremonies resembled those of mainland
Eskimos, but there were differences. Aleuts did not fear the dead.
Eskimos did so, and swiftly disposed of the bodies of deceased relatives,
While the Aleuts postponed the departure of the dead from the living by
Petiods of mourning marked by various rituals. Wailing, drum beating,
and processions occupied the mourners until the bodies of the deceased
Were disposed of. Although the bodies of people of low status
and sometimes women and children--were cremated, others were buried
in the ground or in caves; accompanied by objects which served as
vitable offerings. Mummification was also practiced. Bodies, Were
simailmes prepared by replacing the viscera with grass. The dead were
dressed in heir best parkas wrapped in woven grass nets, and placed in
sitting position in dry eaves. All the articles associated with their ling
pursuits were left with the dead the baby's cradle, the woman's sewing
and cooking utensils, the hunter's kayak and weapons. In the spirit work
the mummified dead would have what was necessary to carry on. These
mummies have been well preserved despite the foggy, rainy climate of
the islands because they were placed in carefully selected, warm, dry
caves of volcanic hills. Once buried, the mummies were strictly left alone.
To molest them would cause death.
Sep 4, 1741
Arctic Passage - First Scientist of the Bering Sea
Russians aboard the St. Peter visit the Aleutian inlands and meet the native people there for the first time. A scientist named Steller records their characteristics and describes the encounter - in which brandy and tobacco were offered to the Aleuts while a piece of whale blubber was offered to the Russians.
On September 4, while the St. Peter was attempting to continue its
western course against a persistent wind, the Russians encountered their
first Americans. Two natives in kayaks paddled toward the ship, shouting
as they came. No one on board the St. Peter could understand what the
natives were saying, but the Americans gestured toward the land, pointed
to their mouths and scooped up sea water with their hands to indicate an
offering of refreshment to the Russians. The Russians tied two Chinese
tobacco pipes and some glass beads to a piece of board and launched it
toward the closest kayak. In turn, one of the Aleuts tied a dead falcon to a
stick and passed it to a Koriak aboard the St. Peter. Apparently the Aleut
wanted the Russians to place other gifts between the bird's claws and
return the falcon on the stick, but instead, the Koriak tried to pull the
Aleut closer and, in alarm, the Americans released the stick.
A boat was lowered from the St. Peter for a shore party. Steller,
Waxell, the Koriak interpreter, and several seamen rowed to the beach. A
landing on the rocky shore was impossible; so three of the boat party
undressed and waded ashore to be greeted by friendly Aleuts-
natives of the Aleutian Islands- who presented a piece of whale blubber.
One Aleut was bold enough to paddle out to the St. Peter and was given a cup of brandy. which he downed, then hurriedly spat out. Brandy not being well received, the Russians offered their second most prized delicacy, a lighted pipe. This, too, was rejected.
On the beach the Aleuts were quite taken with the Koriak
interpreter, presumably boccause his features resembled their own. As the
Russians prepared to return to the St. Peter some of the Americans held on
to the Koriak, and others tried to haul the boat ashore. This
confrontation between Americans and Russians was a classic case of
mutual distrust and misunderstanding and was resolved by the classic
method a show of superior force. Three of the boat crew fired their
muskets over the heads of the Aleuts, who swiftly released Koriak and
boat and threw themselves on the ground. The Russians dashed to the
water. The first test of strength was concluded. All the elements of the
future subjection of the Americans by their eastern neighbors had passed
in review. Tobacco and liquor had made their initial appearance. The first
echoes of the firearms soon to enslave a free people resounded from the
hills. Both peoples were disappointed and frustrated by the events: the
Russians because "we had not been able to observe what we had intended
but on the other hand had met what we had not expected"; the Aleuts
because, apparently, their intentions had been misunderstood. 25 The
Russians laughed at the Aleuts' consternation as they picked themselves
up "and waved their hands to us to be off quickly as they did not want us
any longer." 26 These laughs of derision and the futile waving of the
Aleuts were significant characterizations of the respective assertions of
the two peoples. History was to demonstrate that the Aleuts were no
match for the aggressive Russians. Yet waving the Russians away would
not banish them. This first contact was a prelude and a brief but
prophetic introduction to the subsequent bloody incidents that were to
occur in the conquest of the Bering Sea.
Steller, accustomed to moralizing on his own endeavors and those of
his companions, did not indulge in any reflections on the future of the
Aleuts, though he made a close observation of their physical appearance,
"They are of medium stature, strong and stocky, yet fairly well
proportioned, and with very fleshy arms and legs. The hair of the head is
glossy black and hangs straight down all around the head. The face is
brownish, a litle flat and concave. The nose is also flattened, though not
particularly broad or large. The eyes are as black as coals, the lips
prominent and turned up. In addition they have short necks, broad
shoulders, and their body is plump though not big-bellied." 27
The Aleuts wore what Steller guessed to be "whale-gut shirts with
sleeves, very neatly sewed together, which reach to the calf of the leg.
Some had skin boots and trousers and carried iron knives. Steller
speculated on the probability that the Americans knew the craft of
metalworking. He also described the Aleut kayak, noting its resemblance
to those of Greenland Eskimos.
"The American boats are about two
fathoms long, two feet high, and two feet wide on the deck, pointed
towards the nose but truncate and smooth in the rear." 29 The boats had a
frame construction covered with skins and a manhole which could be
made watertight. To this circular hole was attached a strip of material
which could be "tightened or loosened like a purse. When the American
has sat down in his boat and stretched his legs under the deck, he draws
this hem together around his body and fastens it with a bowknot in order
to prevent any water from getting in." 30
Steller did not believe that the Aleuts made their homes on the
islands. He had not yet observed any of their dwellings and assumed that
they only visited the wind-swept islands on hunting forays from the
mainland. He also speculated on the origins of the Americans, noting
their physical similarities to Siberian peoples, which suggested an Asiatic
Jul 5, 1742
"The sea cow's meat tasted like the finest beef, and its fat was equally succulent. Until harried out of existence, the beast was to provide the most favored sustenance of the Bering Sea fur traders. The largest sea cows were 35 feet long and 20 feet in girth, The sea cow which Steller dissected weighed 8,000 pounds"
DEATH AND LIFE ON BERING ISLAND The expedition members who had strength enough set about providing some shelter against the wind and snow flurries that swept the beach. Winter was fast approaching, and there was an immediate need to improvise some protection for Bering and the other seriouslv ill men who were carried ashore. The men instinctively constructed shelters which resembled the Aleut dwellings traditionally built in the same latitudes- pits hollowed out of the sand, roofed with canvas sails and other material from the St. Peter. Succor did not come soon enough for some of the seamen. Several expired soon after they were conveyed ashore- the death toll was mounting. Blue foxes, at first observed joyfully by the mariners as a potential food supply, soon proved to be a great nuisance. The animals, unawed by the presence of men, darted about the camp, thick as flies, stealing any tood left unguarded and terrorizing men too weak to drive them off. In one day, Steller and Plenisner killed sixty of the audacious beasts, felling some with axes and stabbing others with knives, using their carcasses as a temporary shelter wall. Each day the slaughter continued, until heaps of carcasses were strewn about the camp site, and still the foxes came, blind to their destruction in their mad quest for food. The bodies of the dead seamen were horribly mutilated before the surviving seamen could summon up enough energy to bury them in the sand. Even then, the The sows foxes desecrated the shallow graves, digging the bodies from the carth and farrying away bloody limbs. Foxes also marauded the rowinkat and stores which the Russians were gradually bringing ashore from the St. Peter. They scattered the provisions, carried off clothing, tools, and anything else that was not secured. Steller recalled the greed of the Russians for the furs of Kamchatka foxes during the preparated of the voyage and wondered whether they were being chastised for it by the Scourge of the Bering Island animals. Half crazed by the persistentche she thieving beasts, the Russians tortured and maimed as many rokee of They killed, gouging out eyes, slicing off ears and tails, half skinning some and half roasting others in their camp fires. Neither torture nor wholesale hutchering helped. The foxes infested the camp in increasing numbers and with unchecked audacity.
On November 14, a week after the initial landing, Steller and other hunters clubbed to death four sea otters; the first ones killed on Bering island. From their Kamchatka experiences the Russians were familiar with the sea otter and knew the value of its pelt in the Chinese trade. But the precious skins meant nothing to them now; they stewed up the best parts of the otter flesh to make a dish more palatable than that from the despised foxes and left the pelts to be devoured by the camp robbers. In the wake of the Bering expedition, better-fed Russians were to visit Bering Island and the Aleutians for the primary purpose of hunting sea otters. The discovery of the sea otters in November 1741 initiated the conquest of the Bering Sea, the exploitation of its resources and people. For the succeeding century, the quest of the sea otter was to underlie every event that took place. On December 8, Commander Bering's long suffering came to an end. For days he had lain half buried in the sand that had drifted into his wretched hut, protesting any efforts to clear it away. "The deeper in the ground I lie," he told Waxell, "the warmer I am; the part of my body that lies above ground suffers from the cold." 1 Bering's body was dug from the sand, tied to a plank, and thrust down into the ground, after which the burial service was read over his remains. Throughout December other deaths followed that of Berings; a total of thirty men expired in November and December. "Our plight was so wretched," wrote Waxell, "that the dead had to lie for a considerable time among the living, for there was none able to drag the corpses away; nor were those who still lived capable of moving away from the dead."? For days a dead man shared the hut in which Waxell and Khitrovlay: Whil the only able-bodied men left took time from hunting and other larks to undertake burial. Weak as he was, Waxell offered some direction. Neither then nor later, when he had recovered his health, did he attempt to drive the men. That was not an acceptable way of exerting one's power and authority. ' "Severity would have been quite pointless. Discussions on courses of action were participated in by all; the distinction between officers and seamen was erased by the circumstances waxell was cheered when the sick seamen felt well enough to sit up for card games; their play helped them pass the time and overcome the melancholy that was as deadly as scurvy. All did not share his lenient view. There were, though, certain members of our company who criticized my attitude on this point and told me to my face that I was nor discharging my duties in accordance with the regulations." + These illiberal complaints did not originate with severe, regulation-minded Russian officers, but with the expedition's most notable civilian, Georg Steller. "The sickness," wrote Steller, "had scarcely subsided, when a new and worse epidemic appeared, I mean the wretched gambling with cards." In lurid terms he described the men's obsession with gambling, their constant conversation over gains and losses, a general debauchery that resulted in theft, hatred, quarrels, strife, and the wasteful killing of sea otters for their pelts. On this last result, Steller did have a point, if it was true that otters became scarce because their furs were used as gaming stakes. Yet it does seem that the naturalist overstated his case--whether out of concern for a dwindling food supply, his abhorrence of a mindless animal slaughter, or because of a revulsion at a recreation with which he had no sympathy. While lacking the sunny bliss of the palm-studded islands of the South Pacific Ocean, Bering Island was not an entirely unfortunate place to wash up upon. Though unpromising in its rock-girded appearance, the island was not by any means infertile and desolate. Sea and land birds nested there in prodigious numbers. Foxes abounded all over the island, and its shores were the refuge of teeming herds of seals, sea lions, sed cows, and sea otters. With the Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George far to the east on the Bering Sea, the Commander Islands constituted the world's major breeding rookeries of the fur seal. Hunters had no difficulty finding plump ptarmigans, foxes, seals, and sea otters, and Steller busied himself gathering antiscorbutic herbs. By this time Lieutenant Waxell, one of the iron men of the expedition, Was ultering from scurvy and was nursed by seller. Steller was one of a handful of men who remained in good health, a blessing for the less fortunate. He had strength enough to turn his energies to the care of the sick, forgetting, for a time at least, the actual and imagined insults suffered on the voyage. For the first time, the young naturalist's word had weight; no one interfered with his supervision of the scurvy victims. For once Seller would have the leisure to make a close investigation of a newly discovered land, and the island seemed to offer more natural curiosities than had been noted on the two previous landings of the vovage.
While on Bering Island, Steller did his most important work- dissecting and describing the sea cow- -a scientific task which would assure his fame for all time. Seller also devoted much attention to the bird life of Bering Island, much of which was familiar. One bird, however, followed the sea cow's road to extinction and was long known only through Steller's description. This was a large cormorant, unable to fly, hence a prime target for food hunters. This bird, which weighed 12 to 14 pounds, was seen by only one naturalist, Steller, and disappeared about 1850. Other birds he was the first to discover were Steller's Jay, Steller's Eider, the rare Steller's Eagle, and Steller's White Raven. Steller's botanical work was of equal distinction to his observations of marine life, birds, and land animals. He classified scores of unknown plants for the first time.
Through the winter the castaways subsisted on birds and various mammals, and in May the hunters brought in the first of the sea cows that fulfilled all the needs of the expedition. The first was a 4-ton monster with enough meat to feed the men for two weeks. Its rich, red flesh tasted like excellent beef, and its snow white, almond-flavored fat was "of such exceptionally good flavor and nourishment that we drank it by the cupful without experiencing the slightest nausea."& Steller's enthusiasm for the sea cow's potential was unbounded. "These animals are found at all seasons of the year everywhere around the island in the greatest numbers, So that the whole population of the eastern coast of Kamchatka would always be able to keep itself more than abundantly supplied from them With fat and meat." Truly, Steller's sea cow, as it came to be called, was a marvelous beast; yet the naturalist's prediction for its future was based in a false estimate of its numbers. It is probable that the sole grounds of the mammal were the coasts of the Commander Islands. In the spring it was decided to build a small ship from the remains of the St. Peter. Dismantling the stoutly built St. Peter occupied all of April, and on May 6, the keel of the new ship was laid. All three of the St. Peter's carpenters had died earlier. However, by good luck, one survivor of the voyage, a Siberian Cossack, had some shipbuilding experience and supervised the construction. Twenty men constituted the building party. The others were responsible for providing food for all. In July, the ship was completed, and provisions- -mostly sea cow meat and water were laid aboard. On August 10, the launching of the new St. Peer took place, and three days later the survivors were ready for the sea. Severe restrictions had to be imposed on individual baggage because of the limitation of space. Space had to be reserved for the valuable sea otter pelts which, as Waxell pointed out, were the spoils that repaid the men somewhat for their sufferings. Proceeds from the otters were divided, apparently according to rank. Steller received 80 skins of the 900 which were carried back, but he was outraged by his weight allotment of 360 pounds. He had to abandon what we recognize today as the single most precious trophy of the expedition-_the stuffed skin of a young sea cow, as well as a sea cow skeleton and specimens of the sea otter, fur seal, and sea lion. Plant seeds, a pair of the sea cow's horny palatal plates, field notes, and personal items accounted for the 360 pounds he was allowed. Waxell's weight allowance was twice that of Seller's, but others' allowances must have been much less, since the total weight allowed the forty-six men was only 3½ tons. Steller stormed and raged, but to no avail. Crowded aboard, the men took a last look at their abandoned camp. New occupiers had already taken over. "We watched the foxes on shore ransacking our dwellings with the greatest glee and activity and sharing among themselves what was left of fat and meat." 8 Their passage to Petropavlovsk, the port they had left fifteen months earlier, took just two weeks. At long last the first American expedition had ended. Steller survived the voyage but died in Siberia shortly after reaching the mainland. Considering the limited landfalls of the expedition, Seller had gathered a comprehensive picture of the natural life of the Bering Sea. And despite his own reservations regarding his work, Steller deserves his high rating among the world's pioneer scientists.
Georg Wilhelm Seller's hard-won fame rests on the accurate descriptions of the sea cow and other marine mammals which were published in his De Besis Marims. His dissection of a female sea cow in July 1742 can easily be considered one of the high points of Pacific Ocean scientific activity. This great northern manatee is known only through Steller's notes and the few skeletons collected years later. For 100 years, the sea cow has been extinct. A living specimen was last seen in 1768, a mere 27 years after its discovery by the Bering expedition. Steller observed these mammals along the entire shore of the island. where they fed on seaweed near the mouths of streams. The sea cow's appetite was huge. When not mating or caring for their young, they were continuously occupied in feeding along the sea edge, usually with half their body above the surface. June was the mating season and a strict ritual ensued. "The female flees slowly before the male with continual turns about, but the male pursues her without cessation. When, however, the female is finally weary of this mock coyness she turns on her back and the male completes the mating in the human manner." In mating, the males penetrated their mates with a six-foot-long penis of corresponding thickness. Sea cows were unafraid of people and allowed their approach without showing any sign of alarm. Prior to the landing of the Bering party, they had never known an enemy, but, unfortunately for their survival, their bulk and shore-feeding habits were to make them a helpless prey. The Russians found the flesh of seals strong and coarse and liked that of the sea otter even less, but the sea cow's meat tasted like the finest beef, and its fat was equally succulent. Until harried out of existence, the beast was to provide the most favored sustenance of the Bering Sea fur traders. The huge mammal had instincts that seemed almost human. Although unwary in its own defense, the manatee tried to protect its kind from the butchering hunters. When the Bering men harpooned a sea cow and towed it to the beach, other animals formed a circle about the victim as if to prevent its sacrifice. "Some attempted to upset the yawl; others laid themselves over the rope or tried to pull the harpoon out of [his] body, in which they succeeded several times." In astonishment, the Russians observed "that a male came two days in succession to its female Which was lying dead on the beach, as if it would inform himself about her condition. For all this sensitivity, the sea cows were otherwise obtuse. Regardless of the slaughtering that went on among the herd, they never shifted location to escape the bloody executions.
As a scientist, Steller's chief resources were his own intellizence and energy: While men like Johann Georg Mcclit and Louis Delisle held chorere traveled with servants, provisioned with European foods and wines, Steller traveled light eating native foods for convenience and wifetife interest. Typically, Steller tackled the problem of the dissection and description of the sea cow with dedication and energy. Handling the huge manatee was extremely difficult. In shape, the sea cow resembled a seal, though it had a large fluke like a whale. The largest sea cows were 35 feet long and 20 feet in girth, The sea cow which Steller dissected weighed 8,000 pounds. The heart alone weighed 36¼ pounds and the stomach was 6 feet long, 5 feet wide, and so stuffed with food and seaweed that four strong men using a rope could scarcely move the animal from its place and only with great effort were able to drag it out of the sea. Rain and cold impeded Steller's efforts, while Arctic foxes were tearing at the mammal's flesh and carrying off Steller's paper, books, and inkstand. This unpleasant work could not be performed without considerable manpower: Steller recruited seamen and paid them in tobacco. Fortunately Sneller was a nonsmoker. Not unexpectedly, the seamen's work did not meet Seller's standards; yet, at the time, he expressed satisfaction that they did not desert him altogether in this gigantic task. Steller complained often of a lack of assistance, but he seemed to have received a great deal of help from Plenisner, who made the six sea cow drawings that enhanced De Bests Marins, and from other members of the surgical staff, as well as the Cossack, Lepekhin.
Steller's description of the sea otters on Bering Island was the first comprehensive report on the mammals to be published. The stranded Russian mariners appreciated the value of the pelts enough to tan them carefully, but they also depended upon them for a food supply. Steller noted that the sea otter had been confused bv Russians in Kamchatka with the beaver, because its fur more closely resembled the beaver than that of the familiar, smaller, river otter. Indisputably, argued Steller, the sea otter was an American sea animal which only occasionally tound its way to the coast of Kamchatka. A full-grown prime skin is 5 feet long, and 24-30 inches wide, covered with a fine fur, the hairs of which are 3/4 inch in length. Its jet black, glossy surface revealed a silver tinge when ruffled, and the presence of scattered white hairs enhanced its beauty. Unlike other marine mammals, the sea otter does not depend upon a thick blubber layer under the skin to maintain its bodr emperature in the frigid waters of its habitat. Instead it relies upon the islation of air trapped in its hair; consequently the mammal"s constantly preening and grooming its hair. Seller was unaware of this and other findings of modern biologists that have made the uniqueness of the sea otter even more clear. Of all its singularities, none is more amazing than its use of a tool to aid feeding. As it floats on its back, the after breaks clams, crabs, and other crustaceans held in its front paws against a stone resting on its chest. Otter spend most of their existence on their backs feeding, preening, and sleeping. Females carry and suckle their offspring and copulate in this position. Despite its apparently leisurely habits the otter's appetite is ravenous. Each day it requires a quantity of crustaceans and fish equaling ¼ of its total body weight of up to 80 pounds. The Aleuts of the Aleutian Islands were skilled hunters of the sea otter long before the Russians enslaved them to that purpose. They Aleuts hunted at sea from their swift kayaks, using a spearlike weapon which was thrown from the cramped sitting position of the boatman. Hunting from such a platform was a difficult exercise even in the calmest seas. A keen eve and strong, steady throwing arm were essential to accuracy. Sea otters did not present a large target above the surface, and it required a consummate skill to strike them in the water. Once hit, the otter could offer little resistance. It could dive beneath the surface for a time, but if the spear had deeply penetrated its body, this evasion only exhausted and weakened the animal. Before long the otter had to return to the surface to breathe and die as its life's blood poured from the wound. As life ebbed away, the Aleut hunter guided his craft close and lifted his prey from the water. "The sea otter is the mildest of all marine animals. It never makes any resistance to hunters, and only saves itself by running away if it can." 12 Thus Stepan Krasheninnikov in his report on Kamchatka reported of the most important resource of the Bering Sea. Natives of Kamchatka hunted the sea otter off the island's shores by spreading nets among the kelp beds where otters fed, by harpooning the mammals at sea from their small boats, and sometimes by catching them on ice floes that grounded near the coast. Kamchadals did not prize the sea otter pelt as highly as that of foxes and sables, but the Cossacks who traded for them knew better.
When Europeans discovered them, there may have been only 2,000 individuals left. This small population was quickly wiped out by fur traders, seal hunters, and others who followed Vitus Bering's route past its habitat to Alaska. It was also hunted to collect its valuable subcutaneous fat. The animal was hunted and used by Ivan Krassilnikov in 1754 and Ivan Korovin 1762, but Dimitri Bragin, in 1772, and others later, did not see it. Brandt thus concluded that by 1768, twenty-seven years after it had been discovered by Europeans, the species was extinct. In 1887, Stejneger estimated that there had been fewer than 1,500 individuals remaining at the time of Steller's discovery, and argued there was already an immediate danger of the sea cow's extinction.
The first attempt to hunt the animal by Steller and the other crew members was unsuccessful due to its strength and thick hide. They had attempted to impale it and haul it to shore using a large hook and heavy cable, but the crew could not pierce its skin. In a second attempt a month later, a harpooner speared an animal, and men on shore hauled it in while others repeatedly stabbed it with bayonets. It was dragged into shallow waters, and the crew waited until the tide receded and it was beached to butcher it. After this, they were hunted with relative ease, the challenge being in hauling the animal back to shore. This bounty inspired maritime fur traders to detour to the Commander Islands and restock their food supplies during North Pacific expeditions.
Jan 1, 1745
The Russians, with superior ships and firepower, took what they wanted from the Aleuts and killed any who obstructed their actions.
Atrocities began in the winter of 1745: An explosion of deadly
firearms against a people who had only stone-tipped spears and
walrus-bone knives began the crude intrusions of the old world into the
new. On Attu Island of the Near Islands, at the extreme tip of the
Aleutian chain, the first native was injured by a bullet. Two days later on
Attu Island ten armed men, under Alexei Beliaief, went to explore their
landfall. Before long the men encountered a settlement of Aleuts. The
men, hungry for women after a long, arduous voyage, and unaccustomed
to exercising civilized restraint, provoked an argument that ended in the
outright killing of fifteen male natives. No other substantial reason, other
than securing the women, was recorded for the killing. Additional
gunpowder and bullets were rushed to the scene from the ship in support
of the murderers. For nearly an entire year the peoples of Attu were
ruthlessly harassed by the Russians at first welcomed to the island.
The years passed and the violence between the Aleuts and Russians
continued. The isolation of the scene lent itself to lawless and unbridled
actions. There was no effective government authority and might meant
Jan 1, 1762
As it appears from reports forwarded by Colonel Plenisner, the Bechevin Company during their voyage to and from the Aleutian Islands on a hunting and trading expedition committed indescribable outrages and abuse on the inhabitants, and even were guilty of murder, inciting the natives to bloody reprisals.
In 1762 a conflict occurred which marked the turning point of
Aleut-Russian relations. Promyshlenniks patrolled the waters of the Alaska
Peninsula for food and furs and landed on one of the islands. Their
uncivilized attitudes and actions toward the natives were habitual now.
ingrained into their already rough personalities. Suddenly, a group of
well-organized natives attacked and killed two Russians and injured three
others. Another group almost simultaneously attacked the Russian base
camp, killed four more Russians, and wounded four others. The
makeshift shelters were burned to the ground. The Aleuts were clearly
taking the initiative this time. Later in spring, two more intruders from
the east were killed about three and a half miles inland from where their
ship was anchored. This time the Russians killed seven native hostages in
retaliation. In return for this, the Aleuts attacked the Russian camp but
were unsuccessful. Offensive actions by the natives put the Russians in
temporary retreat. They repaired their ship and returned home with their
rich cargo of 900 sea otter pelts and 350 fox skins.
Even in their retreat they continued their outrages. Twenty-five
young native girls were kidnapped from their home island and given the
task of gathering wild berries and roots for the crew. The ship eventually
reached the coast of Kamchatka where fourteen of the twenty-five girls
and six Russians went ashore. Two girls immediately escaped into the
bills. One was killed by the men. On the small-boat trip back to the ship
the remaining eleven girls drowned themselves either in shame or
despair. To protect themselves, the Russians threw all the remaining
natives overboard to drown.
Authorities in St. Petersburg were aware of the atrocities committed
by the unrestrained fur hunters. But authorities were a quarter of the
world distant in the transportation and communication systems of the
eighteenth century. Efforts at checking the lawlessness which represented
the Russian nation to the people of the new world would come later in
the formation of privileged trading companies. But during the decades of
totally free traffic and totally free enterprise, authorities could only issue
stern warnings against the promyshlenniks.
One such warning read in part:
As it appears from reports forwarded by Colonel Plenisner, who was
charged with the investigation and final settlement of the affairs of the
Bechevin Company, that that company during their voyage to and from the
Aleutian Islands on a hunting and trading expedition committed
indescribable outrages and abuse on the inhabitants, and even were guilty
of murder, inciting the natives to bloody reprisals, it is hereby enjoined
upon the company about to sail, and especially upon the master, Ismailov,
and the perevodchik, Lukanin, to see that no such barbarities, plunder and
ravaging of women are committed under any circumstances.
Such warnings were respected until anchor was pulled.
Jan 1, 1763
West of the Revolution - An Uncommon History of 1776
Aleuts engage in warfare with the Russians but gradually lose - especially when the Russians destroy their boats - key to their hunting practices and "as indispensable as the plow and the horse for the farmer"
In 1763, four ships, the Zacharias and Elizabeth, the Holy Triniry, the
John, and the Adrian and Natalie, were visiting Umnak and Unalaska,
two of the larger islands of the Aleutian chain that Russians had dis-
covered only four years earlier. The captains collected iasak from local
Aleuts and demanded amanaty to ensure prompt payment and their own
safety. Then they divided their crews into hunting parties, as Aleuts
from Unalaska, Umnak, and neighboring islands had expected. The
Aleuts hatched a plan. As Solov'ev reported it, local residents would
"live in friendship at first," but when the Russians split up to hunt and
trade, they would take them by surprise. "Using this ruse," they hoped
to "kill all the Russians."
On Unalaska, the Aleuts ambushed the hunting parties from the
Zacharias and Elizabal. Four survivors, fleeing along the coust to their
vessel, spotted a locker washed ashore, then bits and pieces of the ship
itself, and finally the bodies of their mates, mangled and strewn about
the beach. Months later, they reached the Holy Trinity, where they
learned that, besides themselves, only three of their chirty-seven crew-
mates had survived."
The Holy Trinity had also come under attack and would soon be
destroyed. The skeleton crew, reduced in number and weakened by
scurvy, could not control the vessel, and in heavy winds it was driven
to Umnak and crushed on the rocky shore. Aleuts set upon fifty-four
castaways that same night. In July 1764, the twelve survivors of that
raid built a skin boat and rowed around the island, searching for the
John, the third of the four ships that had been trading in the islands.
In a steam bath constructed by the Russians, they found only a charred
frame and the garroted bodies of twenty countrymen. (No one from the
Job survived to recount its story, but in 1970, archaeologists discovered
the steam bath and the remains of the crew. The refugees from the
Zacharias and Elizabeth and the Holy Trinity were soon rescued by the
last surviving ship, the Adrian and Natalie. In September 1764, relief
arrived when Solovey anchored off Unalaska and learned of the plight
of his fellow promyshlenniki."
In retaliation, Solover killed at least seventy Aleuts in five differ-
ent engagements. "I preferred to talk them out of evil intentions so
that they could live in friendship with the Russian people," he main-
tained. But elderly promyshlenniki, interviewed in the early nine-
tenth century, would remember differently. On one occasion, Solovev,
after being provoked, killed one hundred Aleuts "on the spot." The
bloodshed was "terrible," they recalled. On another, Solovev blew up
a fortified structure sheltering three hundred Aleuts and cut down
the survivors with guns and sabers. One trader stated that Solovev
had killed more than three thousand in all, perhaps an exaggera-
tion; another insisted that he had killed no more than two hundred.
Considering that Unalaska sheltered only a few thousand inhabitants,
even two hundred deaths would have represented a crushing blow to
Years later, Aleuts insisted that Solovief, above all others, was
responsible for their decline. The Russian captain had killed hundreds
or thousands, they said, and many others had fled at his approach. He
made a practice of destroying their haidarkat, as kayaks are known in
the Aleutians. The boats were essential for hunting, "as indispens-
able as the plow and the horse for the farmer," observed one Russian.
Many of the refugees died from starvation or exposure while laboring
to replace the skin-covered vessels, which took over a year to build."
On Unalaska and surrounding islands, Solover "shot all the men;
three residents recalled in 1789. He reportedly practiced a cruel experi-
ment: arranging the Aleuts in a line, he fired at the first to discover
how many people the bullet would pass through. On one occasion,
villagers sought refuge on Egg Island, a tiny outcropping with cliffs
four hundred feet high, lying in deep water just off the eastern edge
of Unalaska. Its rocky shoreline hindered Solov'ev's approach, but he
made landfall on the second attempt and killed the men, women, and
children who had gathered there. "The slaughter was so atrocious,"
Aleuts said, "that the sea around the islet, became bloody from those
who threw themselves or were thrown into it."6
In his journal, Solover remained largely silent about his thirty-five
months on Unalaska and the surrounding islands, where his crew
harvested the vast majority of the furs that would eventually be
sent on to Kyakhta. There was "nothing worthy of notice" in the journal,
declared the Russian Senate, which ordered future voyagers to keep bet-
ter records. Solov'ev's reticence may have been grounded in knowledge
of the fate of Ivan Bechevin, a wealthy Irkutsk merchant who was put
on trial in 1764 for the actions of his company. The official investigation
concluded that Bechevin's promyshlenniki-_who kidnapped, raped,
and murdered a number of Aleut women--committed "indescribable
abuses, ruin and murder upon the natives."3
Nonetheless, enough details exist to reveal that relations berween
Solover and the Aleuts rapidly deteriorated. Shortly after Solov'ev set
up camp on Unalaska, he sent out two hunting parties. A detachment
from the first became stranded in a cove surrounded by high cliffs.
The Aleuts who discovered the vulnerable men severed their arm and
leg tendons and then cut off their limbs and heads. Later, they boasted
to Solovev, "we are going to kill all of you just like we killed Russian
people before." Solov'ev ordered two Aleut captives stabbed to death."
The remainder of the first party went west, to hunt dt Umnak and
other western islands. It mer with success, according to Solov'ev. The
men lived peacefully with the islanders, who "voluntarily" gave them
hostages, traded with them, and paid dasak. "I was always happy wich
those foreigners and nothing bad happened while we stayed there,
" he stated. (lozemtry, meaning "foreigners," was the term Russians applied to
the native peoples of Siberia, as well as to the Aleuts.) Their acquiescence
to Solov'ev's presence may have been forged in the 1760s, when, accord-
ing to one report, promyshlenniki had virtually "exterminated" the
'"disobedient" populations on southern Umnak and its western islets.**
Jan 1, 1766
A leader named Solovief heard of the death of his fellow Russian hunters at the hands of the Aleuts the preceding year and set out to teach the natives their place once and for all, and conducted a brutal campaign that led to the death of 3,000 natives.
Word that the native people of the Aleutians had dared to take the
initiative against the Russians spread among the fur hunters and
eventually led to the final domination of the natives. A leader named
Solovief heard of the death of his fellow Russian hunters at the hands of
the Aleuts the preceding year and set out to teach the natives their place
once and for all. He first put his own camp and men in order and
discipline. Without strict adherence to the rules he set, there could be no
success in revenging his people.
The natives attacked Solovief and his men and were driven back
with heavy losses. One hundred Aleuts were killed; their boats were
smashed. Then Solovief joined forces with several other companies of
promyshlenniks until a substantial, though ragtag, force of arms and men
resembled a small army. A blood-thirsty scourge of the islands ensued.
Isolated settlements were destroyed and burned to ashes. Families were
routed and killed. Tools, boats, and food were ruined. Elimination, not
subjugation, of the native became the primary goal of the attacks.
Finally, Solovief led his forces to a fortified Aleut village of 300 and
proceeded to attack the natives in full strength. Bows and arrows were no
defense against the firearms of the Russians. No doubt about the outcome
existed, even among the natives. The Russians filled bladders with
gunpowder and blew up the log foundations of the village walls and
houses. The natives had no chance and were quickly routed and
slaughtered by the promyshlenniks. Perhaps as many as 3,000 Aleuts were
killed during all the Solovief scourges. The exact number of deaths
cannot be known, but the unrelenting savagery of the traders was clear.
Solovief once experimented with the power of his musket by tying twelve
natives together, one behind the other. He fired the rifle at point-blank
range to learn that the bullet stopped with the ninth man. The Aleuts
never attacked the fur hunters again.
The crude reign of Solovief in 1766 ended the free life of the Aleut
people. No longer could the native people live in their own land without
paying tribute in money, skins, work, and lives to the strangers from
across the sea. Their skill as hunters was exploited beyond reasonable
Jan 1, 1836
Veniaminov, Vol. II
Aleut Eskimos who died between 1822 and 1836 are recorded with their age.
Fortunately I have long been in touch with the Moravians and their records. The records of the Russians, however, pertained to a field I had never much cultivated — the Aleut Eskimos. So I appealed to my friend Professor William S. Laughlin of the Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin. He replied from Madison on March 14, 1958:
“First, I should like to call your attention to the splendid table in Veniaminov, Vol. II, table 4, in which ages of those who died between 1822 and 1836 are given ...
“I have seen a number of skeletons of advanced age at death. Thus, one Aleut from Umnak Island gave every evidence of being over 80 years of age. I do not have enough records of this sort to be of much statistical value. They do serve to confirm my belief in the validity of local traditions about aged persons ...
“Concerning Anaktuvik persons [inland Alaska Eskimos] I have the list of birth places and birth dates which Mr. Robert Elsner of the Aeromedical Laboratory kindly made available to me. The number of aged men was notable, as was the absence of aged women ...”
Here Professor Laughlin goes into the details of a study being made jointly by himself and Professor Leopold Pospisil of Yale's Department of Anthropology on a small group of inland Eskimos at the Anaktuvik Pass. Of this group one subgroup of 8 consists of men all of whom were born during or before 1900, all thus 58 years old or older.
When I finally got around to formulating this chapter I wrote Professor Laughlin again. He replied on February 4, 1959:
“Concerning the diet of the Aleuts, we can happily document the fact that not only were they living on fish and sea mammals in the time reported (Veniaminov, Vol. II) but they still have a diet which is heavy in flesh foods ... The Aleuts still depend on salmon, sea lion, seal and store foods, in this descending order.”
Veniaminov's table, from which Professor Laughlin sent extracts, is for the Unalaska district of the Aleutians only, and records 1,170 deaths:
“For the period 1822-36 inclusive, the following numbers died: 92 for ages 1 to 4; 17 for ages 4 to 7; 41 for ages 7 to 15; 41 for ages 15 to 25; 103 for ages 25 to 45; 66 for ages 45 to 55; 29 for ages 55 to 60; 22 for ages 60 to 65; 24 for ages 65 to 70; 23 for ages 70 to 75; 11 for ages 75 to 80; 20 for ages 80 to 90; 2 for ages 90 to 100.”
Jan 2, 1836
Superintendent Peacock's letter is dated at Happy Valley, Labrador, March 25, 1959
Further evidence of old age Labrador Eskimos exists.
On receiving Professor Laughlin's letters, I sent copies of them along to Superintendent the Reverend F. W. Peacock, M.A., Moravian Mission, Labrador. His records go back well toward 1771, the founding date of the mission; and there are several stations. Knowing that I had available only limited comparison figures for the Aleutians, he sent me only records from his Hopedale community and covering only the same years as Veniaminov's.
Superintendent Peacock's letter is dated at Happy Valley, Labrador, March 25, 1959:
“Upon receipt of your letter I went to the records of the Hopedale [mission] from 1822-36. I discovered that
110 people were born during this period ...
29 died before reaching the age of 10 years;
9 died between the ages of 11 and 15;
4 between the ages of 16 and 20;
6 between 21 and 25;
7 between 26 and 30;
10 between 31 and 35;
4 between 36 and 40;
8 between 41 and 45;
2 between 46 and 50;
10 between 51 and 55;
4 between 56 and 60;
4 between 61 and 65;
8 between 66 and 70;
4 between 71 and 75;
1 reached the age of 79.
“From 1860 to 1879 there were 150 births in the same district, of which number 79 died before they were 5 years old, and a further 10 before they were 10 years old. Another 30 died before they were 60 years old; 30 died between the ages of 61 and 82. One is still living at the age of 81 [in March 1959] ...”
We have examined, then, the mortality records of 1822-36 for 1,170 cases from Alaska and 110 from Labrador. The base line of our immediate concern we shall take at 60, because of the assertion that “a primitive Eskimo over the age of 50 is a great rarity.”
According to our Russian information on 1,170 Aleutian Eskimo births, 46 died in the decade immediately past 60, 34 in the one past 70, 20 in the one past 80, and only 2 lived past 90.
According to our Moravian information on 110 Labrador Eskimo births, 8 died in the decade next past 60 and 5 in the one next past 70, only one of these reaching 79.
Thus the most nearly “primitive” sample group I was able to obtain does not support Dr. Keys very strongly in his contention that “a primitive Eskimo over the age of 50 is a great rarity.” Nor does it quite confirm Dr. Greist's statement that “the Eskimo of the North ... lived to a very great age.” More nearly do the largely non-Europeanized natives of Veniaminov and Peacock accord with the Biblical: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten ..
Jan 1, 1903
Dr Romig was finding cancer in modernizing native families.
The territory most specifically observed by Romig is Temperate Zone southwestern Alaska, south of the Yukon River and west of a line drawn north from Seward and Anchorage to Fairbanks. The Europeanization of these parts started in the 1740's, soon after Bering's visit, and was intense in the Aleutians and along mainland Alaska's south coast and the southern west coast. There were little-touched sections, particularly the west coast farther north than the Kuskokwim; and then the interior, which is forested and chiefly inhabited by Athapaska Indians. So there were districts and families that had been “modernized” even before Romig first came; but there were others still so primitive that we might consider them untouched by such influences as those of European foods and food-handling methods. Which these little-influenced spots were, the medical missionary, when of sympathetic temper, would soon know. The total population, before the 1900 measles epidemic, would have been considerably more than 10,000; after the measles, considerably less.
During his first seven years, 1896-1903, Romig worked from Bethel, the Moravian mission on the lower Kuskokwim. He traveled considerably, by dog team in winter and canoe or launch in summer. His patients were chiefly Aleuts, Eskimos, and Athapaskans; but there was a scattering of Russian and other European whites, and of Chinese, Japanese, and Negroes. Some native women were married to these immigrants. They and their children were the chief modernized elements among whom — as among the immigrants themselves — Romig was now and then discovering malignancy cases.
Jan 1, 1906
Letters of the present rector of St. Peter's-by-the-Sea, of Sitka, the Reverend Henry H. Chapman.
Eskimo natives had a range of cooking styles and mostly carnivorous diets but did not suffer from cancer until modern foods entered their diet.
In reply to a further query, the rector wrote again from Sitka on September 16, 1958. He confirmed that he had lived at Anvik all but three of the years between his birth in 1895 and his first journey in 1908 when he went out to become a graduate of Middlebury College, Vermont. “I returned to Anvik as a missionary in 1922 and lived there until 1948, except for furloughs and the four years I was in Fairbanks.
“The native people of the Anvik area are Athapaskans. During my youth the main parts of their food were meat (caribou, rabbits, grouse, waterfowl, beaver, porcupine, black bear and lynx) and fish (salmon, whitefish, shellfish, loche and lampreys). The loche has a large liver which is said to be even richer in vitamins than ordinary cod liver. The Indians also ate raw foods such as berries, wild rhubarb, and a root which they called ‘mouseberries’ because it was gathered and hoarded by field mice.
“They obtained fat from caribou, black bear, and beaver tails. The lampreys were rich in oil, which was highly prized. They also bought seal oil from the Eskimos. Even in my boyhood they supplemented their native diet with white man's food, including lard ...
“The usual way of cooking meat was either boiling or frying. As a boy I was once invited by a party of Indians to eat bear meat with them. It was boiled and well done ... I do not know that any flesh foods were eaten raw, except for dried fish ...”
Neither does the published literature on the forest Indians report that any flesh foods were customarily eaten raw by the forest Indians of Alaska or northern Canada. Indeed, the name “Eskimos” is believed by many to have been derived from an Algonquin expression meaning “they eat their meat raw.”
When I went down north along the Mackenzie, in 1906 and 1908, I now and then heard talk of how horrified the Athapaskans had been when they first saw white men of the Northwest Company and Hudson's Bay Company eating the customary British underdone roast meats. In 1910, when we met the Athapaskans northeast of Great Bear Lake — Dogribs, Slaves, and Yellowknives — we found that they were still mildly horrified to see the Hudson's Bay Company Canadian Joseph Hodgson and the Old Country British John Hornby and Cosmo Melvil, who were then living among them, eating rare caribou steaks and roasts.
In a presentation of evidence regarding the views of frontier doctors on the incidence of cancer, it is of consequence to make clear that early testimony regarding the rarity or absence of malignancies is as clear and strong for the forest Indian north as for the grassland Eskimo country. Some of the early medical missionaries — notably Dr. Hutton in Labrador — have inclined to credit a diet of raw flesh with that former absence of cancer in which they believed. To emphasize this point let me quote again Dr. Hutton's book Health Conditions (1925), Page 35:
“Some diseases common in Europe have no t come under my notice ... Of these diseases the most striking is cancer ... In this connection it may be noted that cookery holds a very secondary place in the preparation of food — most of the food is eaten raw ...”
If only Eskimos are considered, in relation to the alleged former absence of cancer, and of these only the Labradorians, then the logical deduction for one who believes nutrition to be fundamental in relation to malignancy, is that actual rawness of food may be the crucially important cancer-inhibiting factor. But the force of this logic diminishes as we go westward from Labrador, among the Eskimos. Without cancer's appearing at all, cooking grows steadily more important as we move west. From Dr. Hutton's and other accounts, the Labradorians, east of Hudson Bay, were the greatest raw-flesh eaters of the whole Eskimo world. West of the Bay the boiling of flesh increases; and inland from the Bay, among the Caribou Eskimos, the roasting of caribou supplements the boiling. At Coronation Gulf, near where Dr. Jenness and I spent the first years during which the Copper Eskimos ever associated closely with Europeans, the years 1910 to 1915, there was considerable summer use of roasting, though the winter cooking, if any, was by boiling. Among the Mackenzie Eskimos, as described from the 1860's by Father Emile Petitot and from the early 1900's by myself, boiling and roasting were both considerable. These methods were even a bit more common in northern Alaska, as described by John Simpson in the 1850's and Murdoch in the 1880's. In southwestern Alaska as described by Dr. Romig in the manuscript he submitted to our Encyclopedia Antarctica, for the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first one of the twentieth, the cooking of flesh foods reached its Eskimo high point.
Yet the mission testimony, starting from Labrador, remains equally clear, from east to west: the medical missionaries all looked for cancer, and they never found it among the “primitive,” though they did find it among the “modernized.”
Thus clarification is important for whoever expects a nutritional key to this Eskimo cancer situation. Among the Athapaska and western Eskimos cooking was hardly ever carried to the point of “well done,” or “boiled to pieces.” Instead the native meats resembled our fashionable roasts, which have a well-done layer on the outside, medium done just under that, and the center pink or red. And so it was with the forest Indians — at least with those Athapaskans from Great Bear Lake to just west of the Mackenzie, with whom I hunted and lived — though they insisted on some cooking, they were in practice as careful as Eskimo cooks to see that the centers of most pieces were pink.
To sum up the raw and cooked-food elements of northern medical missionary theorizing about cancer:
During the time when large numbers of non-Europeanized northern natives were allegedly free of cancer, there was little cooking of flesh foods beyond the degree which we call medium. Among grassland and coastal Eskimos raw flesh eating ranged from a great deal in northern Labrador to a good deal in southwestern Alaska. Only among forest Indians were raw flesh foods avoided, and even among these there was little use of overcooked flesh.
Vegetable foods, where eaten at all, were always raw, among prairie and woodland natives alike. Among Eskimos, vegetable foods were important only in the farthest west — along the west coast of Alaska, among the Aleutians, and along the south coast of Alaska. In the most northerly region from Baffin Island, Canada, to Point Barrow, Alaska, vegetable eating was negligible, except in time of famine. Among woodland Indians, vegetables were negligible with the Athapaskans from the west shore of Hudson Bay to beyond the Mackenzie. In Alaska the eating of raw vegetables by forest Indians increased westward along the northern belt and then increased still more southward, into the country of the Tlingit.
During the time when the medical missionaries reported cancer difficult or impossible to find among large numbers of primitive natives, there was no usual cooking of any vegetables, whether among grassland or forest natives. The cooking of vegetables is part of that Europeanization which is considered by some missionaries to be responsible for the introduction of cancer, or for the change from its being hard to find to its being impossible not to notice.
The European-style application of intense heat to food through frying was new to all northern North American natives.
Jul 20, 1906
The man who started the search for cancer.
It was probably at the Arctic Red River (where on July 20, 1906, I first saw an Eskimo) that I first heard of Captain Leavitt, who, I found later, was known on the lower Mackenzie, as well as on the shores of the western Canadian Arctic, as “the man who started the search for cancer.” Or perhaps I first heard of Leavitt the next day, July 21, at Fort McPherson, where I met John Firth, Hudson's Bay Company factor, destined to be my friend until his death two decades later. In later years we talked a great deal of Leavitt, whom Firth admired, and whose search for cancer in northeastern Siberia, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and northwestern Canada, led a half century later to the writing of this book.