Alaska Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States: Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. They are often defined by their language groups. Alaskan Natives are enrolled in federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entities, who in turn belong to 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, who administer land and financial claims.
Ancestors of the Alaska Natives are known to have migrated into the area thousands of years ago, in at least two different waves. Some are descendants of a third wave of migration in which people settled across the northern part of North America. They never migrated to southern areas. For this reason, genetic studies show they are not closely related to Native Americans in South America. However, they are related to the Native Americans of Canada and the United States.
Throughout the Arctic and northern areas, the ancestors of the Alaska Natives established varying indigenous, complex cultures that have succeeded each other over time. They developed sophisticated ways to deal with the challenging climate and environment, and cultures rooted in the place. Historic groups have been defined by their languages, which belong to several major language families.
Russian colonial period
Arriving from Siberia by ship in the mid-eighteenth century, Russians began to trade with Alaska Natives. New settlements around trading posts were started by Russians, including Russian Orthodox missionaries. These were the first to translate Scripture into Native languages. British and American traders generally did not reach the area until the nineteenth century, and in some cases missionaries were not active until the twentieth century. In the 21st century, the numerous congregations of Russian Orthodox Christians in Alaska are generally composed mostly of Alaska Natives.
Rather than hunting the marine life, the Russians forced the Aleuts to do the work for them. As word spread of the riches in furs to be had, competition among Russian companies increased and they forced the Aleuts into slavery. Catherine the Great. who became Empress in 1763, proclaimed good will toward the Aleut and urged her subjects to treat them fairly. On some islands and parts of the Alaska Peninsula, groups of traders had been capable of relatively peaceful coexistence with the local inhabitants. Other groups could not manage the tensions. Russians took hostages, families were split up, and individuals were forced to leave their villages and settle elsewhere. The growing competition between the trading companies, merging into fewer, larger and more powerful corporations, created conflicts that aggravated the relations with the indigenous populations. Over the years, the situation became catastrophic for the natives.
As the animal populations declined, the Aleuts, already too dependent on the new barter economy created by the Russian fur trade, were increasingly coerced into taking greater risks in the dangerous waters of the North Pacific to hunt for more otter. As the Shelikhov-Golikov Company and later Russian-American Company developed as a monopoly, it used skirmishes and systematic violence as a tool of colonial exploitation of the indigenous people. When the Aleut revolted and won some victories, the Russians retaliated, killing many and destroying their boats and hunting gear, leaving them no means of survival.
The most devastating effects were from disease: during the first two generations (1741/1759-1781/1799 AD) of Russian contact, 80 percent of the Aleut population died from Eurasian infectious diseases. These were then endemic among the Europeans, but the Aleut had no immunity against the new diseases.