Published on October 30, 2010 by John
The island has been occupied by Unangas for at least 2,000 years. Unangas speak the western dialect, known since the Russian era as “Aleut”. Recent archaeological evidence indicates that the present village site may have had human use since prehistoric times. The first contact with Russians occurred in 1747, and Atka became an important trade site and safe harbor for Russians. In 1787 a number of hunters were enslaved and relocated to the Pribilofs to work in the fur seal harvest. The townsite was settled in the 1860s. After the end of the sea otter hunting era in the late 1800s, Atka had no viable cash economy. Reindeer were introduced to the island in 1914. During the 1920s, Atka became relatively affluent due to fox farming. After the Japanese attacked Unalaska and seized Attu and Kiska in June 1942, the U.S. Government evacuated Atka residents to the Ketchikan area. Atka was burned to the ground to prevent Japanese forces from using it and advancing. The community was rebuilt by the U.S. Navy after the war, and residents were allowed to return. Many Attu villagers, released from imprisonment in Japan in 1945, relocated to Atka. This exposure to the outside world brought many changes in the traditional culture and attitudes in the community. The city was incorporated in 1988.
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A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Native Village of Atka. The population of the community consists of 91.3% Alaska Native or part Native. A traditional Unanga settlement, exposure to the outside world has brought changes to the traditional lifestyle; however, the Aleut language is still spoken in one-fourth of homes. The St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is a central part of village life. Sea lions and other sea mammals are an important part of the subsistence lifestyle, and meat is shared village-wide on an informal basis. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 41, and vacant housing units numbered 9. Vacant housing units used only seasonally numbered 4. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 56 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 0 percent, although 29.11 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $30,938, per capita income was $17,079, and 7.53 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.