Birds in Aleut Culture

Published on August 21, 2014 by Amy

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Birds in Aleut Culture
Birds in Aleut Culture

The Aleutian Islands in Alaska is home to the Aleuts (Unangan) native people and a massive avian population. Aleutian natives have occupied the fertile Alaskan islands for more than 4000 years. The Aleutians, who derive their common name from Russian occupancy during the eighteenth century, are a seafaring tribe with deep respect and spiritual connection to the birds that also inhabit the Aleutian Islands.

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Aleutian Birds

There are hundreds of bird sub-species that spend some or all of their lives in the frigid and extreme climate of the Aleutian Islands. Some birds that live on or migrate to the Aleutian Islands are either on the endangered species list, or have historically been classified as endangered. The Spectacled Cormorant is one species of native Aleutian birds that is now extinct due to over hunting.

Aleutian Birds and Clothing

The native people from the Aleutian Islands are traditionally water faring people. This means that their clothing items must be water resistant to keep the people dry and warm in the freezing temperatures of the Alaskan coastlines. Aleutians used bird feathers in clothing as decoration (see reference 1). These feathers denoted prosperity dependent upon the type of feather worn. For example, an eagle feather denotes power and a connection with the sun, power and male procreation (see reference 3).

Aleutian Birds Piercing and Tattoo Art

Body piercing and tattoo art is used to establish the symbolic powers of a bird into the body and mind of the person wielding the body art. The Aleutian native people have a long tradition of body piercing with feathers and bird bones, in addition to tattoo art (see reference 3). Aleuts choose birds of prey, like the bald eagle, as the signatory for a powerful being who can control the sky and reap the benefits of the water.

Aleutian Birds and Native Legends

Aleutian culture considers the Raven to be the creator of the universe (see reference 4). There are a variety of legends and myths that discuss the raven. The raven is a mythological bird for many indigenous tribes. The Aleutians inhabit a string of islands filled with a large variety of avian species, yet they choose a similar bird of prey as a representative of the creator of the universe.

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