Memories from Lost Villages

Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientists

Attu Woman, John Malcolm Greany, 1941

World War II brought conflict and trial to Alaska.

Unalaska, located in the Aleutian Islands, had served as a trading hub for local villages. Native people from Biorka, Kashega, and Makushin would bring goods like fox pelts and baskets via boat and hiking trail to Unalaska to trade.

In June 4, 1942, Unalaska was bombed.

Nearby residents from the smallest Aleutian villages were evacuated via steamship and resettled in internment camps in southeast Alaska. They stayed in Wrangell then relocated to Ward Lake Evacuation camp near Ketchikan. The majority of the residents were Unangan (Aleut) Native people. When the war ended many were told their old home villages were unfit to live in; they were not resettled in their home villages but in Akutan or Unalaska.

The story of the Attu people from Attu Island, the most westerly island of the Aletutian Island chain, is even more dire. They were captured by Japanese forces and held during the war in Otaru on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Nearly half of their number perished. The Attu islanders were sent back to Alaska in 1946 and ended up in Atka, not back on Attu Island.

Aleutian Islands

The story of these four Aleutian villages, emptied during World War II and never resettled, for some are not only compelling history but living memory. The National Park Service’s Affiliated Areas program has endeavored to document the history of the Unangan (Aleut) villages lost during World War II. The Lost Villages Project tells stories from these Aleutian World War II National Historic Areas. This is accomplished through tales from former residents and stories collected and shared by their descendants.

Each village hosted fewer than 50 people, yet many are touched by the project, which combines memories and oral history with photographs and records. Voyages aboard the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tiĝla^x took Unalaska elders back to the villages of their childhood: Makushin in September 2009, and Kashega and Biorka in September 2010. Their descendants also attended, traveling to the sites of the old villages and standing in the places where so many stories began. Another trip is planned in the summer of 2012 to visit Attu.

Want to know more? Read Lost Letters from Attu (2009) by Mary Breu, a book about her great-aunt Etta Jones. Look for the book Attu Boy, Nick Golodof’s memories of Japan. NPS is assisting Nick Golodof, and the book will include other first-person accounts as well as translated segments of a Japanese book “On the Train of the Picture” (1980s) by Masami Sugiyama. Sugiyama hunted for the story of a picture snapped of a Japanese soldier named Kanami carrying young Nick Golodof piggyback. The National Park Service’s page on The Lost Villages Project notes that “each of the trips so far have been documented on video and in photographs. Products of the Lost Villages project will include two books, and possibly one or more DVDs, as well as a museum exhibit.” What wonderful ethnohistoric research into Native settlements in Alaska.

"On the Train of the Picture" Masami Sugiyama

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April is archaeology month in Alaska. Find more on Arctic Archaeology at FrontierScientists.com

“In Southwest Alaska, the Aleutian Range becomes the backbone of the Alaska Peninsula and continues as the Aleutian Islands, extending about 1300 miles into the Bering Sea.” NPS Archaeological Overview of Alaska.

Cited:
The National Park Service’s The Lost Villages Project
The National Park Service’s Archaeological Overview of Alaska
Dr. Rachel Mason of the NPS presents ‘Return to the Lost Villages of the Aleutians’ Remembering and Revisiting the Lost Villages of the Aleutians

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