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Alutiiq Fact Sheet (Sugpiaq, Chugach Eskimos)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Alutiiq tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Alutiiq website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Alutiiq pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Alutiiq Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Alutiiq"? What does it mean?
Alutiiq is pronounced "al-yoot-eek." This word probably originally came from a Russian name for their tribe, likely related to their similarly-named neighbors the Aleut. In their own language the name they use for themselves is Sugpiaq, which means "true person," or just Suk, "person." Sometimes they also use the names Koniag or Chugach, which are a placenames from their homelands. But today most people refer to themselves as Alutiiq.

What about "Eskimos"? Is that an offensive word or not?
It depends who you ask. Some Arctic Native people consider it insulting, while others use it themselves. In particular, many Alutiiq people use "Eskimo" to refer to general cultural traits they share with other Arctic peoples like the Yup'ik, Aleut, and Inuit. It is definitely not a word from their own language, though. It was originally a name used by Algonquian Indians for the Inuit people of eastern Canada. Eskimo may have come from a word for "eaters of raw flesh," or it may have come from a word for "snowshoe makers." Here's an article about that.

Where do the Alutiiqs live?
The Alutiiq are original people of southwestern Alaska. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Alutiiq lands.

How is the Alutiiq nation organized?
Alutiiqs in the United States do not have reservations. Like most Alaska Natives, they live in Native villages instead. The Alutiiq Native villages are independent from one another, but they have joined several coalitions, such as Chugachmiut and the Bristol Bay Native Association, to handle tribal government and land management services on behalf of Alutiiq villages.

In the past, each Alutiiq village was governed by a village chief, called toyuq in Alutiiq. This chief was always male, and was chosen by the clan elders. Today, Alutiiq villages are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Alutiiqs speak?
Almost all Alutiiq people speak English today, but some Alutiiqs, especially elders, also speak their native Alutiiq language. Alutiiq is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Alutiiq word, "cama'i" (pronunciation similar to chah-my) is a friendly greeting in Alutiiq. You can also read a Alutiiq picture dictionary here.

Today Alutiiq is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Alutiiq people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Alutiiq culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Alutiiq Museum of Kodiak Island. There you can find information and pictures about Alutiiq history. Here's a link to the homepage of Afognak, one of the Alutiiq Native Villages of Alaska, where you can read about the lives of Alutiiq people today.

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How do Alutiiq children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Alutiiq children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. Alutiiq mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradle-boards, not in the hoods of their parkas as women in other Arctic cultures did.

What were men and women's jobs in the Alutiiq tribe?
Alutiiq men were hunters and fishermen, and sometimes went to war against neighboring villages. Women traditionally did not paddle kayaks or take part in war, although there were some exceptions. Alutiiq women were craftspeople, making their family's clothing, tools, and baskets. Women also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, music, and traditional medicine.

What were Alutiiq homes like in the past?
The Alutiiqs lived in earth houses, known as barabaras or ciqlluat. An Alutiiq earth house was made by digging an underground chamber, raising a wooden frame over it, covering the frame with grass mats, and then packing the whole structure in layers of sod to insulate it. Since Alutiiq houses were partially underground, they were larger than they appeared. They usually contained multiple rooms, and each one provided shelter to several familes from the same clan. Here are some pictures of earth lodges like the ones the Alutiiqs used. Alutiiq people do not live in these old-fashioned homes anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Alutiiq people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Alutiiq clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Alutiiq men and women both wore long tunics, parka coats, and loose pants. Most of their clothes were made out of sea lion skins, but some parkas were made out of animal intestines to make them water-repellant. Alutiiq people also wore sealskin mittens and mukluk boots lined with grass. Here is a website on Native clothes.

The Alutiiqs didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Men sometimes wore painted wooden hats known as hunting visors. Here is a website showing examples of Aleut and Alutiiq hunting visors. For ceremonial occasions, Alutiiq women wore beaded dance headdresses like this. The Alutiiqs painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and often wore tribal tattoos. Both men and women wore beaded necklaces and shell jewelry in their pierced ears and noses.

Today, some Alutiiq people still wear beaded necklaces or mukluks, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of sealskin trousers... and they only wear fancy regalia at special occasions like a dance.

What was Alutiiq transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Alutiiqs used skin boats, known as qayaqs or baidarkas. These boats were made by stretching sealskins over a light wooden frame, and were renowned for their speed and maneuverability. Only men paddled kayaks in Alutiiq culture. They used these kayaks to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare. Here is a website of kayak pictures. Today, of course, Alutiiq people also use cars... and non-native people also use kayaks.

What was Alutiiq food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Alutiiq were fishing people. Alutiiq men caught salmon and other fish, and also hunted seals and other marine mammals from their kayaks. Sometimes they even harpooned whales. Alutiiq people also sometimes shot birds and small game and gathered berries and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native food.

What were Alutiiq weapons and tools like in the past?
Alutiiq fishermen used fishhooks, nets, and fishing spears. Whalers used special harpoons with long stone points. Hunters and warriors used bows and arrows. Sometimes warriors would wear bulky armor made of wooden rods lashed together to protect themselves from enemy archers. Here is a website of pictures and information about these various types of indigenous weapons. Alutiiq people would also sometimes use wooden visors with slits cut into them to protect themselves from snow-blindness.

What are Alutiiq arts and crafts like?
Alutiiq artists are known for their fine basket and carving arts, including walrus-ivory carvings. Here is a nice website about Alaska Native artwork.

What is Alutiiq music like?
The traditional Alutiiq musical instrument is the drum. Here is a picture of an Alutiiq drum. Only men played drums in Alutiiq culture, but both men and women sang and danced to the music. Traditional Alutiiq musical arts went into decline after colonization, but today some Alutiiq people are reviving more of the old songs and traditions. Here is a video of Alutiiq people drumming and dancing at a cultural event.

What other Native Americans did the Alutiiq tribe interact with?
The Alutiiqs frequently traded with other coastal Alaska Natives such as the Aleut, Yup'ik, Tlingit, and Haida. The Alutiiq were especially close with the Yup'ik and the Aleut, with whom they sometimes intermarried. The Alutiiq and Yup'ik languages are so similar that they are sometimes considered dialects of the same language. Alutiiq villages also sometimes warred against each other or against neighboring tribes such as the Ahtna.

What kinds of stories do the Alutiiqs tell?
There are lots of traditional Alutiiq legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Alutiiq culture. Here is one Alutiiq legend about the girl who married the moon. Here's a website where you can read more about Alutiiq mythology.

What about Alutiiq religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Alutiiq life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Alutiiq people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Alutiiq religion or this site about Native religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically on the Alutiiq tribe. You may enjoy Children of the Midnight Sun, an excellent book about the lives of contemporary Alaska Native children. The cultures of the Aleut and Yup'ik children are very close to the Alutiiq. For older readers, we recommend Looking Both Ways, an excellent book of oral history and information about the Alutiiq tribe. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Alutiiq Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Alutiiq Tribe

Alutiiq Tribe
An overview of the Alutiiq Indians, their language and history.

Alutiiq Language Resources
Alutiiq language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Alutiiq Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Alutiiq Native Americans past and present.

Alutiiq Words
Native Alutiiq vocabulary lists.

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