Aleut - Century of Servitude: A Colonial Regime, 1918-1942

Century of Servitude

Chapter 5. A Colonial Regime, 1918-1942

       One day I picked up my bag of groceries. We got only two cans of tuna fish, number 2 size, that was our whole supply of meat for the week. It was my wife's birth­day. So I thought, what the heck, we'll have a party and use both cans. We ate potatoes and rice for the rest of the week. 1

Forty years after the event, this old Aleuts' words still echo with anguish.

Dramatic economic and social reforms swept the nation in the 1930s; ­collective bargaining rights; wages and hours legislation; social security benefits, welfare benefits that, among other things, replaced relief baskets with cash; and an enlightened Indian Reorganization Act. Indeed, the future looked brighter to the average American; it retained a dismal hue in the Pribilofs.

The Pribilof management system had become set in concrete. Social systems tend to develop a life of their own, a set of attitudes, norms, and practices that, although originally adopted as means to an end, become ends in themselves; they become comfortable, familiar, automatic sets of re­sponses. How often managers explained their practices by saying, "but that is the way it has always been done. "

By the 1920s this familiar, comfortable system in the Pribilofs had the awmarks of a typical colonialism. In part, this reflected national attitudes toward Alaska-the pioneer philosophy of grabbing what was available and getting out fast. Alaska was a highly specialized source of raw materials and profits for the home country. A federal government-private corporate regime for the control and exploitation of these resources dominated Alaska's development at least until World War II. Prior to that time, white Alaskans' efforts to control their resources and destinies and achieve political independence met with indifference.2

This colonialist attitude obviously influenced the evolution of the Pribiilof management system. But that system was not simply a subset of the bwoader Alaska pattern; it was a different variety of colonialism because Aleuts are a racial minority whom government subjected to far more blatant domination than Alaska whites ever experienced. The Aleuts could not, as the whites did, move freely, marry whom they pleased, organize to promote their interests, engage in free trade, or receive New Deal benefits. Furthermore, while few interest groups protested Alaska colonialism, none expressed concern about that on the Pribilofs. Remember, the Pribilofs were extremely isolated, especially prior to air service. The government allowed few visitors and maintained a policy of secrecy about its operations. The only outside group with knowledge of events on the islands, the Russian Orthodox church, remained silent because the church discouraged secular activities.. The Pribilof situation was simply hidden from public visibility, insulated from interest-group pressures. A far more extreme form of colonialism developed in the Pribilofs, closely resembling that of European nations in Africa and South America.

The colonial concept is useful in explaining why in the 1930s the Aleuts' situation worsened as that of other Americans improved. A colonial relationship characteristically involves a developed industrial nation(1) appropriating and exploiting the resources of an underdevelopedI one, (2) using the labor power of workers in that nation to develop the resource; (3) paying the workers near-starvation wages buttressed by special goods and services to keep them alive and functioning, (4) undermining them psychologically to keep them abject and thus available for such exploitation, and (5) dominating their political life to assure access to the human natural resources. 3

The United States, of course, was not a foreign government, but :the Pribilofs was a case of internal colonialism. The issue of resource appropriation in the Pribilofs is not clear cut. The government's right to claim ownership of a wildlife resource for conservation purposes is well established, but noc right to own the resource for commercial development and profit making. Aside from these unique attributes, the government's relationship with Pribilovians was typically colonial-in paying near-starvation wages supplemented by goods and services, in political and economic domination, and in psychological debasement.

Colonialist structures are accompanied by an ideology that depicts the colonized as less than human, as bereft of ordinary human feelings~therefore undeserving of human rights. If colonial administrators perceivede their subjects as fully human, they would lack the justification andthe will to keep them oppressed. With this mentality, administratorstrate indignities on the colonized that they would consider outrageous if anyone directed the same behavior toward them. 4 This ideologicalization inevitably leads to blaming the victims for their condition One wonders, how, when colonialist ideologies and practices conflict with the values of the home country, administrator loyalty is maintained. It is bought by special rewards in money, status, prestige, and privilege, rewards symbolizing a superior status by dint of class, race, and occupational position. With this framework in mind we return to the promising days pf 1918 in the Pribilofs when conditions favored a resumption of commercial sealing. The seal herd again thrived, estimated at nearly one-half million animals.5 In the interests of conservation, Bureau of Fisheries biologists urged opening of commercial sealing. Without harvests the seals might run out of food. Furthermore, unlimited by harvests the seals could, by their habits, substantially reduce other commercially valuable fisheries. Assured of the compatibility between profits and conservation, the government resumed seal harvests in 1918. At first, management set low seal quotas, but gradually it increased the size to a peak of about 95,000 in 1941.6

Net revenues from the seal industry again refreshed the federal treasury-over three and one-half million dollars in the period 1918 to 42.7 A favorable circumstance, this, for improving the economic situation of the Aleuts. But it didn't.

The Bureau of Fisheries restored the sealing and foxing bonuses in 1918 but continued to compensate Aleuts for labor in the non-sealing season, the major portion of the year, with supplies and services. In absolute terms, Aleuts' average annual income from all sources-bonuses, supplies, and services-remained stationary or decreased. Minor ups and downs ocurred, but the trend was downward. For example, the average income in St. Paul was $1,443 in 1919; $1,070 in 1929; and only $753 in 1939. 8 In relative terms their income situation was even worse. Since 1923 the gap between Aleut and United States production workers ever widened. In 1925 Aleuts' income represented 76 percent that of the average production in 1930 it was 67 percent; and in 1940 it was only one-half. 9 The fair compensation clause in the 1910 Fur Seal Act apparently had no impact- no one questioned the adequacy of Aleuts' compensation, and consequently, management had no need to account for it.

The inadequacy of the Aleuts' income was but one aspect of their economic deprivation. In kind wage payments was another. Aleuts had always received a portion of their income in supplies and services. But during the first private lease, they earned an adequate cash income-in kind payments constituted a minor portion of their total income. Then, during the lean years of the moratorium on commercial sealing, management supported Aleuts with supplies-cash earnings were negligible. With the resumption of sealing, management restored the bonus system but failed to acknowledge a significant change in circumstances. Seal rates (ranging between 50 cents and $1.20 in this period) and harvests were too low to provide a semblance of an adequate cash wage.10 In the 1920s and 1930s Aleuts' cash earnings usually represented less than half of their total income. In other words, at least half and in some years the major part of their income, was paid in goods and services 11 Furthermore, unlike earlier periods when management maintained a somewhatt loose arrangement regarding the Aleuts' work obligations, it now obliged them by contract to work year-round, a 44-hour week.12 These significantly altered circumstances failed to generate new policy; in fact, management stubbornly refused to consider any change in the balance between in-kind and cash compensation.

The new brand of agents, by this time effectively silenced by top management, no longer protested the in kind wage. One lone administrator voice in 1921 appealed for a small increase in cash for several categories of:' workers. The Commissioner of Fisheries dismissed the request out of hand "You are advised that other more important demands upon available funds precludes, for the present, favorable consideration for payments 0 cash . . .,, 13 The Commissioner's opposition to this particular request foreshadowed what became a hard and fast policy for the next three decades.

But why the resistance to compensating Aleuts like other American~ workers? Was it simply a question of bureaucratic lethargy, of thoughtlessly continuing a traditional practice? In part it was both, especially in context of management's entrenched colonialist mentality. Listen to superintendent's view of Aleuts in 1936.

... it is true that the natives will spend their money for luxuries instead of ties. It would not be so bad if they would look after their luxuries, but we all know that they won't.

It is going to still take years of training before the natives will understand the of either money or merchandise, and they never will unless we train them to do and make them suffer when they waste their funds. 14

Why should managers concern themselves with paying Aleuts in cash they were convinced Aleuts were incapable of managing it?

But pause a moment. Bureaucratic habits and regressive attitudes persist precisely because they serve a purpose; in this case, the purpose to do not just with the in kind payments but a combined system of M and bonus payments. Because Aleuts were totally dependent on the as the only source for cash, managers' manipulation of the bonus was a powerful means of control. A high-ranking official in 1941 openly acknowledged this function of the bonus.

An interesting feature of the Sealing and Foxing Division is that at times it is very valuable from the standpoint of administration and maintaining control over natives. Upon several occasions when infractions of the rules have occurred, the agent demoted a man from one sealing class to a lower class, thus reducing the amount of his income. The possibility of such action has been a strong deterrent to violation of the rules.15

The most compelling incentive to retaining in kind compensation, however, was still its cost-saving value. The presence of surplus federal revenuesw from the seal industry did not relieve Congressional pressures on the program to make money. On the contrary, this expectation intensified in , because of the losses suffered during the lean years and the moratorium on commercial harvests 16 the new international obligations; and the Great Depression, during which Congress at times impounded the Pribilof budget. 17 These pressures embroiled the Bureau in cost considerations. And managers appreciated the cost-saving value of the in kind wage payments. The Pribilof superintendent in 1925 cast light on how this process worked, how the supplies could be manipulated to effect wage reductions and iegulate Aleuts' cash expenditures.

We are now paying the natives a considerable amount of money each season in cash. In a great many instances, in fact in most cases, a large proportion of this money is being spent for items which are not of any real value, and are not essential . . .

There are, however, a great many items in the schedule which the natives should not be supplied free of charge, but they should purchase them with their own funds. It will therefore be necessary to make reductions in the number of absolutely unessential items heretofore furnished. 18

These "absolutely inessential items" probably referred to such goods as a pair of dress shoes, a second dress, candles, matches, kitchenware, bedding­little else was available in the government store. But the point is, by manipulating these supplies, management effectively -reduced wages and accomplihed this in a less visible manner than would have been possible had Aleuts received a full cash wage. Yes, economic incentives played a powerful role in management's determination to retain the system of in kind and bonus wages, a system which it justified in terms of Aleuts' inability to handle money.

Top managers persisted in conveying the notion that goods and services represented wages for labor performed. For example, in the 1922 Congressional appropriation hearings, when asked if Aleuts received compensation for their labor, a top official replied:"Their chief compensation is food, fuel, and clothing." 19 Throughout this period, managers referred to the sup­plies as payment for labor. 20 Nonetheless, they distributed the supplies as if they were gratuities, substituting family requirements for labor force partici­pation and work classifications as a basis for determining the amounts to be distributed.

To compound the economic discrimination, the very manner of distributing supplies degraded Aleuts. Early in this period, Aleut heads of house­hold could still order food from available supplies in the store. But this practice soon ended and the storekeeper, instructed by the agent, filled the grocery bags. Every Saturday morning the household head picked up the bag. Only the head could go to the store, not the women who did the cooking (unless they were themselves heads of households)- In cases where married brothers lived in the same house, a relatively common arrangement because there was a continual housing shortage, the younger brother was not allowed to go to the store. "I couldn't even bring food to my family; they had to eat my brother's food; it was humiliating," opined a St. George man.21 Collecting the pre-selected bags demoralized people; "Every week they threw a bag of groceries at us, that was our pay," a St. Paul man painfully recalled. 22

As if this weren't indignity enough, the contents of the bags caused anguish. While the Bureau provided schedules of the particular foods and amounts to be distributed, these were merely guides and were not necessarily.followed. The Bureau could and did reduce supplies when it saw fit. For example, the following caveat accompanied the 1930 schedule:

The schedule contains a number of increases in issues on important items. It will be impossible to increase such items this year... The schedule also contains a number of important decreases....

It is desired that where practical, decreases in issues be carried into early date.23

Even if the schedule had been followed, it was deficient in items-milk (although agents distributed small amounts of canned (which the 1941 agents said were distributed only on Easter), fresh meat, fresh fruit, and fresh leafy vegetables. Physicians' reports repeatedly referred to these nutritional deficits. Furthermore, supplies of canned meat were discontinued when seal meat or other locally caught products were available..

In response to a questionnaire survey by the 1941 Pribilof physician that contained not a single question about the food supplies, virtually respondent complained about the food.24 We found a similar response in interviews with Aleuts. Regardless of the subject of the interview, nearly every person referred to the abominably inadequate supplies.

The government store carried the worst brands of canned goods, no popular bramds like Libby's or Hunt's. The cans had no brand names at all. And the clothes picked for us. We weren't allowed to pick colors, just take what they gave us. just threw the clothes at you. Sometimes they didn't fit. They carried only two sizes--small and large.

We got three pairs of shoes a year. They were like made out of paper. When we" needed a new pair we had to take the old one to the store. Agent would say, have to wear them two more weeks, no matter if the soles were worn through and ping.

They just gave us work shoes. Nothing to dress the children up in. Two cans of milk a week. that's all, even if you had babies.

I start working for the government in 1937 only cash compensation we used to an was from the seal harvest ... for the rest of the year we used to work for our food which was to be issued from the government store once a week which by no means was satisfactory or enough for a week, one can of salmon or one can corned beef ... each week . . . no fresh meat at all, they used to discontinue the can meat when the ~.ealing starts so we can eat only seal meat. Good thing we had sea lions and ducks and sea gulls around the island, otherwise we would starve. The Bureau staff em­plovees used to have their own food storage room . . . with a lot of fancy canned goods, eggs, and fresh meat for their own use. They used to issue us eggs occasion­ally when they were no longer edible.25

My kids were hungry a lot. Some days we had only bread and oatmeal or oatmeal andpotatoes for the children.

I kept a diary about what we were given to eat. This was in 1947 but it was the same in earlier years.

April 23
Breakfast: Coffee and bread
Lunch: Tea and bread
Dinner: Fried potatoes

April 24 Breakfast: Coffee and bread
Lunch: Tea and bread
Dinner: Duck

April 25
Breakfast: Coffee and bread
Lunch: Duck soup
Dinner: Duck soup

March 18 This is what I wrote down: Don't know what we're going to have for dinner. Last week we didn't have any meat, only coffee, bread, and potatoes. Today is my birthday.
Lunch: Spam and rice
Dinner: Corned flakes, puffed wheat

In 1941 the mess hall cook told a nurse that he enjoyed living at St. Paul in the summer when people had some money from the seal division, -but I couldn't stay here all winter with the hungry kids coming around for dry bread and hawk eyes (agent) watching from the office to be sure I didn't give them a crust.26 That year the nurse, Fredericka Martin, decided to test the Aleut diet to see if she could eat at just what a sealer did and still have energy to do her work.

I planned to limit us to the experiment for a week. One day was enough. Or, rather, too much. We had to calm our surprised, protesting, neglected stomachs before we could go to sleep. It was not only the kind of food but the small quantity which ended our test. I no longer wondered why the kids sneaked around the garbage cans and ate some filthy refuse. I started trying to fill some of these small, two-legged bottomless pits that I had seen gathering in raids on the garbage cans behind the house. I had to limit my generosity. Each youngster brought his friend to be fed. Though I decreased my gifts, they still hovered around the house for handouts. 27

On such niggardly rations how did the Aleuts stay alive and healthy' And, indeed, the population increased steadily in this period, not from im­migration but from a net natural gain. The birthrate, though lower than in the past, far outstripped the death rate, which had taken a sharp drop (although it was still double that for the general population at the end of tilis period). 28 Does this mean that the government food issues were sufficient to maintain rising levels of health? The Aleut people claim that their survival would have been threatened had they been solely dependent on the supplies issued, had they not supplemented the supplies with locally caught products and their own cash purchases. But even with the supplements, they often went hungry: "The sealers were so weak from hunger at times. They got tired. Agents said they were lazy. They weren't, just didn't have anything is their system," explained an old-timer.29

Keeping people on the edge of hunger and denying them the smallest consumer pleasure reflects the dehumanizing process in the colonial relationship; it demoralizes people and demoralization renders them abject and dependent on whatever crumbs are thrown their way.

To plunge the sword of debasement yet deeper, management discriminated against Aleuts even in the distribution of domestic animals-reindeer, sheep, and cows.

The government had cows but they gave the meat to the white people. We only got beef on Christmas and Easter.

They didn't give the people beef until after the war. Before that it went to Bureau employees. We had sheep on the islands all my life. But I never tasted sheep meat until I was thirty seven years old. Most of the fresh meat went to the whites. We got cow's milk only when the mess hall cook had leftovers.30

The official record confirms the Aleuts' allegations.

1935 Annual Report

We have a small dairy herd on the islands which furnishes a good supply of raw a for the white employees and some for the natives.31

A later report specified the distribution of cow's milk for three months in !944 and 1945. In October 1944, for example, Aleuts received only percent of the 267 gallons distributed, while four white employees ne received 36 percent. A similar disproportion characterized the other months.32

One might explain the minimal supplies in terms of managers' cost consciousness, but how can one explain depriving Aleuts of a proportionate share of locally grown products which entailed insignificant costs? Was this another feature of the dehumanizing process? Perhaps, but there seems to be an additional reason. Maintaining a colonial system also requires special rewards to employees-why else would they do such "dirty work?" Rewards in reindeer and cow meat, of course, are insubstantial in themselves, but they symbolize a superior status, one of the rewards by which management won staff commitment.

Other staff privileges reinforced this special status, such as strikingly better houses and facilities. While Aleuts had no electricity until the late 1920s and had no running water, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, or furnace systems until after World War 11, bureau employees had all these facilities by 1918 save refrigeration which they secured in 1929.33 Even some facilities that were available to both Aleuts and whites were distributed in a discriminatory fashion. In a 1926 communication from the St. Paul agent to the superintendent, the agent advised: "Whenever it is necessary to order a new range for any of the natives ... it should be one for the white cottages and the old one given to the native. "34

Social segregation, pervasive in the Pribilofs, was one of the chief means at conveying staff superiority over the Aleuts. Race segregation was, in fact, official policy.

Superintendent to St. Paul Agent, November 14, 1924

Will you kindly notify all of the employees of the Bureau of Fisheries that hereafter no employees will be permitted to play cards with natives at the Pribilof Islands. Any person found guilty of playing cards will be discharged from the service with­out granting of leave of absense.35

Superintendent to Radioman-in-charge, August 23, 1927

In order that there may be no misunderstanding regarding their actions, no white person should visit native houses after dark and we hope that white persons will find it advisable to refrain from entertaining natives at any time, except on busi­ness. I am instructing the agent to record and report any occurrences where white persons are present at native parties or visiting natives after dark.36

Superintendent to St. Paul Agent, March 30, 1937

Please advise all new employees especially those to be quartered in the Foouke bunkhouse that the Bureau does not approve of employees associating with natives in a . social way. Employees are not to enter native houses except on official business, and natives are not to be permitted to remain in the bunkhouse except when . there on business.37

Notice by Agent, June 9, 1938

The Recreation Hall has been set aside by the Bureau of Fisheries for the benefit of 7 white employees.38

Aleuts had to sit in the balcony of the movie house; the whites sat downstairs. Aleuts recount incidents when the Bureau threatened teachers who visited them with immediate discharge unless the visits stopped. The Bureau even prohibited sailors on supply ships from visiting them.

Racism wasn't news in America. But this was not informal discrimination; these were official acts by a department of government. NurseMartin was indignant at the pervasive racist attitudes of Bureau officials.

This attitude, so ingrained, mingled with the conviction that the Aleuts were hbarely above the animals, inferior in every way to the whites. "Treat them like thoroughbred animals," the agent told Dr. Berenberg and his wife, "and you'll get alright..39

The system of racial segregation persisted with the same strength even after the war against fascism. Describing her 1957 visit to the Pribilofs. the late Helen Shenitz, an Alaskan historian as well as member of the Russian Orthodox church, expressed indignation and outrage about the racism.

By the time we arrived at St. Paul it became obvious to me that I have encountered something that was unbelievable to me; Aleuts, the peons, and whites, the lords...

My first encounter with . . . race discrimination took place in the evening of the day of my arrival on St. Paul. My hostess informed me that on St. Paul there was a tradition that the first evening after arrival of the Penguin, a reception was held for the newly arrived. Besides myself there were newly arrived, a carpenter and a cook - So, came the evening and to the reception we went. After being introduced to everyone, I looked around and then most naively asked: Where are (the) Aleuts? The woman - whom I asked just froze, and after staring at me for a few seconds, in an icy coldC voice, she said: "We do not mingle with the natives." That was my first lesson.

When I came back to the priest's house a group of whites were there. Enthused by ­my conversation with the Aleut woman I told the group about it, told them what a charming hostess that woman was. Immediately I knew that I said or did some-thing wrong. Well, I most certainly have found what I did wrong in a hurry. One of the whites took me aside and said: "We do not associate with the natives and you made a mistake by going to that woman's House. "40

Racism and segregation are bedrocks of a colonial system, serving several functions-keeping the oppressed demoralized and without spirit, rewarding managers with symbols of superiority, and most importantly, keeping staff and victims separated lest association breed empathy--sympathetic employees might speak out, protest, cause an investigation, and thereby threaten the system. Better to encourage employees to think of the Aleuts as "thorough-bred animals."

The tale of social and economic injustice in the Pribilofs goes on. The first half of the twentieth century saw tremendous gains for the citizenry, reaching a climax in the reforms of the 1930s. These reforms produced vir­tually no impact in the Pribilofs. Wages and hours laws and the Social Security Act with unemployment, retirement, and disability benefits for non-federal employees were not available. Aleuts were judged ineligible not because management defined them as federal employees, but because it defined them as wards of the government. As early as 1918, the Secretary of Commerce asked the Solicitor of the United States for an opinion on the application of Alaska's eight.-hour law to Pribilof Aleuts. "You are accordingly advised that the Act of the Alaska legislature above quoted has no application to those persons employed by the U.S. on the Pribilof Islands."41 The Solicitor's opinion apparently legitimized federal policy because Pribilof Aleuts received no Social Security benefits until the 1960s.

Neither did they receive benefits for federal workers-workmen's com­pensation in 1916, retirement in 1920, and paid annual leave in 1936, among others. For this purpose, the Bureau distinguished between natives (sealers) and employees (agents, storekeepers, teachers, etc.). Only employees re­ceived civil service status. The Bureau failed to recognize Aleuts as civil ser­vants until 1950 (and then it was in unclassified status). Thus, Pribilof Aleuts occupied an undefined work status, not federal and not non-federal. This un­defined status gave the Bureau the advantage of not having to contribute social security and retirement taxes. The St. George community tried to compensate for the absence of retirement benefits. Mutual aid, an ancient Aleut institution, remained more viable in St. George than St. Paul probably because white contact there was less intensive. A St. George Aleut recounted the community's response to his father's retirement problem.

When he retired, he didn't have any money at all, not even for tobacco. He didn't go sealing or foxing so he got no cash. The community worried about him. They got together and decided to give him a second class share in the sealing division. Agent said, "no, sealing division belongs to the people who work." The community gave him some money from their shares but it wasn't much. I guess it wasn't enough. He died a year later, just a year after retiring. The community got together and said, no matter what, everyone who retires gets a second class share. 42

This event occurred in the 1920s. St. Paul Aleuts remember no similar Community effort.

Collective bargaining rights, a national norm by the 1930s, was not even a faint possibility on the Pribilofs. Aleuts were a captive labor force " therefore could not threaten to or actually leave their jobs, which is. after all, the fundamental means for bargaining. The Bureau could and did prevent Aleuts from departing the islands.

Commissioner to Superintendent, January 11, 1921

Mr. Christoffers has forwarded to this office a copy of his letter of the 5th instant to you stating that he does not consider it advisable to have Pribilof Natives proceed to Seattle for the winter, as in the recent case of Paul Merculieff. The Bureau concurs fully in the sentiments expressed by Mr. Christoffers. You will be guided accordingly.43

Even if sealers could support themselves outside the Pribilofs, the Bureau still had to feed their families, and therefore managers tried to keep seals on the islands throughout the year. For the most part, however, Aleuts didn't ask to leave the village. Their testimony on this issue is illuminating.

I was afraid to leave. They could give your house away.

They discouraged our going off the islands. We expected to be told, no, if we asked to go out of the Aleutians so we didn't ask.

We always used to have permission to leave and they used to threaten us. if didn't come back on time, they would say we might lose our houses or our job. So people didn't leave.

If you got out without permission, they reduced your sealing division. threatened not to give food to your family. They said they wouldn't take care of our families.44

The awful fear that management would deny their right to return further deterred Aleuts from leaving the islands. This fear was grounded in reality. For instance, women who married men from other places faced exile. As the government prohibited outsiders from Pribilof residence. women had to move to their husbands' villages, and they could never live in the Pribilofs even if widowed or divorced, except if it were to marry a Pribilof man. Men who left might also lose residency rights, especially managers considered them undesirable. Here are some examples from 1930s.

Superintendent to Agent, March 16, 1936

It is desirous that Gavril Stepetin Kochergin be employed at Unalaska as a tempor­ary native this season . . . Gavril is a former resident of St. Paul. He has made application to return permanently to the islands and whether or not his application is approved depends on how he makes out this summer.45

St. Paul Agent to Francis Mandregan, March 4, 1939

The question of your return to St. Paul has been brought up several times but in the last such instance the superintendent made it plain that he considered it poor policy, in view of your past record of bad conduct ... we feel that your past impro­per conduct now makes it impossible to permit you to return to St. Paul... However, if you are not satisfied with our decision, you have the right to appeal to Superintendent Christoffers in Seattle. 46>

Since the agent was simply conveying Christoffers' decision, it seems academic to propose appealing to Christoffers. In any event, it takes only a few exiles, a few instances where emigrants were refused permission to return, to instill terror in the hearts of the others.

Thus, Aleuts were a captive labor force either because they were denied permission to leave or because they were afraid to ask for it. Consequently, few left the village. Between 1925 and 1940 only thirty-three Aleuts permanently left St. Paul, and the majority of these were women who married men from other villages.47 Dependent on a single industry for survival, Aleuts lacked the choice to give or withhold their labor. Even if the bolder among them spoke up, they faced sanctions such as work demotions. A further de­terrent to bargaining was the Aleuts' lack of awareness of labor unions: "We didn't know about labor unions because we were stuck here. We didn't learn about unions until the evacuation when we met people in southeastern Alaska.48

So far, we've talked about the economic situation of Aleut men. Women were excluded simply because they were not part of the Pribilof work force. The sealing and foxing enterprises employed only men. Jobs for women were limited to midwifery at $5 per delivery, nurse's assistant at the hospital for an incredible 35 cents for a twelve-hour day (in 1937);49 and occasionally housework in the homes of whites. This latter opportunity was infrequent because of resistance by management and the white women themselves. The 1924 superintendent outlawed the hiring of Aleut maids. I do not consider (that) the families of permanent white residents require native janitress services for making up beds, cleaning personally occupied rooms, etc. When the new houses for white families are completed it will be necessary for the families occupying them to do their own work.50

Martin pointed out that the white women themselves often hesitated to hire Aleut women because they didn't want them to touch their food. How many ramifications of the colonial mentality-the Aleuts were seen as unfit to touch the clothes and food of the superiors. In any case, there was virtually no employment for the Aleut women. As in the past, economic control was accompanied by political domination, even in the face of radically changing times. The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act had no bearing in the Pribilofs. Bureau officials stubbornly held to the belief that their Aleut wards were noncitizens. Martin described managers'attitudes on this subject. I held many discussions with Fish and Wildlife Service officials about the status of Aleuts. All insisted they were not citizens--even when I showed them a copy of the U.S.-Russian Treaty of Transfer and told them of the post-war legislation in the 20s giving all native Americans citizenship.... the Aleuts were longer in learning about that legislation, because they were so isolated-by geography, naturally, but more so by official policy.51

Under the circumstances, Aleuts couldn't vote or exercise any other citizenship rights-for example, the right to local self-government.

Local self-government at the least means that people (1) have some degree of autonomy in organizing local political affairs and participating in im­portant community decisions, (2) are treated as equal to other groups in the political decision-making process, and (3) have their interests represented in larger groups. In native American communities, local self government also means that people exercise some control over the substance of their so­ciety. 52 None of these attributes any longer characterized local organization and decision-making in the Pribilofs. The Bureau actively discouraged and in­terfered with the Aleuts' indigenous political authority until it faded into oblivion. Contemporary Aleuts in St. Paul have no recollection of a chief. Their St. George counterparts recall a chief as late as 1938 but also remember that he was divested of power. The last reference we found to a chief in the official record was in a 1916 petition to the Commissioner of Fisheries. 53

And what replaced the indigenous political system? Nothing really, although several community organizations did emerge-native canteens in the mid-1920s and community clubs in the 1930s. Management's support of these developments probably reflected sensitivity to the national movement for an enlightened Indian policy, culminating in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act). But these community organizations resem­bled local self-governance in form only. In substance, the community clubs were subject to the ultimate authority of the agents. The clubs, limited primarily to recreational activities, operated through three committees: civic, recreation,and hobby. The club presidents organized community work, such as maintaining the church and cemetery. Even with these narrow functions, agents had veto power over all club decisions. Contemporary old-timers say e the government owned all the tools, equipment, and buildings, they could not even hold a dance without the agents' permission, and that approval hinged on the mood of the agent. Thus, the community clubs were not fertile ground for relearning the art of self-government.

The same held true for the native canteens. The initiative for the native canteens came from the Aleuts, from their desperation for a source to supplement the scant supplies in the government store. And, indeed, the canteens carried such luxury items as photographic equipment, musical instruments, cookies and candies, and packaged meat.54 Initially, the Aleuts capitalized canteens from their small cash earnings; later, the canteens became self sustaining. Agents supported the canteens, but again were unwilling to relinquish the reins of control. The canteen policy board, on which agents sat,determined margins of profit and the uses to which profits would be put.. The profits belonged to the Aleut community and could be used for projects as construction of a church or recreational facility. All board decisions, however, depended on agents' approval. Even in managing the enterprise, agents controlled policy and finances. Canteen managers' responsibilities were limited to keeping accounts, maintaining stock, and serving customers, while agents were in charge of purchasing, disbursement of funds, general supervision, credit policy, weekly allowances to Aleuts, and the right to restrict purchases, such as the amount of sugar and tobacco an individual could purchase in a year.55 As if the Aleuts were children, management let them play at community organization while preventing their political development.

As in the past, agents continued to dominate the administration of jus­tice-in assuming authority to investigate and prosecute crimes and determine punishments which still included deportation. A few changes occurred in the structure of the justice system, but these did not alter the agents' role. United States Commissioners were appointed to both islands, in 1918 on St. Paul and several years later on St. George. But Commissioners' duties were limited to recording births, deaths, and marriages and approving adoptions. Furthermore, the agents often doubled as Commissioners, even as late as 1945.56 Early in this period, floating courts operated in Alaska, but the evidence at hand indicates that agents rarely sent cases to them, probably because of a Bureau practice of referring cases only when a conviction seemed certain. The St. Paul agent in 1940 told of having received verbal instructions from top management to handle cases himself unless he had positive proof for a conviction.57 This meant that agents also acted as courts for preliminary hearings in serious cases.

Drunkenness persisted as the major justice problem of concern to agents because it kept sealers from their jobs.. Undaunted by the ineffectiveness of measures they had used in the past, agents continued to demote and even exile people for drunkenness. With suppression of so many of their cultural institutions, Pribilof Aleuts seemed to cling to this one collective expression of abandon and defiance.

One of the Aleuts' most keenly felt cultural devastations was the continuing attack on the Russian-Aleut school and language. Management had succeeded in suppressing the Russian school and the Russian language. Also, it instructed teachers to wipe out the use of the Aleut tongue. Nearly every annual school report stressed suppression of the Aleut language.

And how did teachers effect this suppression? Grimacing as if nauseated and in pain, a St. George woman described the teachers' methods.

The teachers used to put medicine, I can still taste that vile stuff, in our mouth if we spoke Aleut. They said not to do any Aleut crafts. They told our parents not to talk Aleut. We kids were afraid to speak Aleut even in our homes; we were afraid the teacher would find out and put that terrible tasting medicine in our mouths.58

Paradoxically, while the ostensible reason for discouraging Aleut culture and language was to facilitate students' progress in the American school, the Bureau of Fisheries provided a very limited educational experience. High school education was becoming the norm in the United States, but in St George only five grades were offered; in St. Paul, six. Furthermore, whatever the student's progress through these grades, school was arbitrarily terminated at age sixteen when boys were required to enter the sealing gang.

When we got to the end, at sixteen, they told us that was enough schooling for sealers. Said you go to work now. We were like slaves. They don't want to teach us nothing too much.

At sixteen they made us go to work. Further schooling wasn't allowed, not even for the girls though they didn't have to work. The agent wouldn't let us go.

How did they stop you?

They threatened us, and then we had no way of transportation unless thex transported us. You had to have government permission to go out on their boats. 59

Aleuts felt insulted by the low caliber of American education offered.

The teachers were told in Seattle, don't teach the Aleuts anything. Just teach them to say, yes sir, and sign their names.

I think the teachers were instructed not to teach us anything, to keep us ignorant. When I started school, they had only one book-Pinochio-that everyone would take turns looking at. We just played in school. They didn't teach anything thoroughly.

They told me I was in the fifth grade but I noticed they gave me the same books I used in the fourth grade.60

What does it mean for the Bureau to insist on American education and then provide such a grossly inadequate one? Again it reflects the colonialist nature of the system on the Pribilofs. The Bureau needed not educated Aleuts but work horses who knew enough English and arithmetic to manage their jobs. And specifically, the Bureau did not want enlightened Aleuts who might organize around their dissatisfactions or take Bureau positions, acts that could threaten the underpinnings of the segregated system.

With this deficient education, Aleut learning was probably unremarkable. Teachers certainly thought so. But as in most explanations of Aleut capabilities, the whites in charge tended to question not the adequacy of the programs they introduced but of the Aleuts. The 1927 head teacher at St. Paul explained the low levels of Aleut learning in the following terms:

That the pupils are retarded is beyond a doubt. This is charged to:

1. To an innate lack of mental ability.
2. Use of the Aleut language.
3. General inertness and irresponsibility.61

With its low priority on humanism, Pribilof management created in­tense pain for Aleuts by destroying an age-old welfare custom. Informal adoptions were common practice in Aleut villages and an important source of cultural pride, for this custom symbolized some of the Aleuts' most sacred values-communality, sharing, and care for all members. The Bureau approved adoptions only when they involved Pribilof children. When they concerned children from other villages, the Bureau generally opposed them because it did not want an additional mouth to feed.

Commissioner of Fisheries to Superintendent, January 22, 1924

Reference is made to your letter of January 15, 1924 in regard to the desire of So­lomonia Melovidov . . . a native woman of St. Paul Island ... to bring to St. Paul a child adopted by her. In the meantime permission will not be given to bring the child to St. Paul Island. The adopting mother is herself a ward of the government and is in no position to assume the responsibility involved...

The Bureau is not entirely satisfied as to the facts in the case, the only representa­tion of which appears to be in a telegram sent to Mr. Proctor (superintendent) by Solomonia Melovidov herself. This woman is not deemed capable of deciding for herself whether she has legally adopted the child or not.

The laws of Alaska ... seem. to make it incumbent upon the (United States) Com­missioner who orders an adoption to satisfy himself that the person who adopts a child is of sufficient ability and in all respects a proper person to bring up the child and furnish suitable nurturance and education. It is difficult to see how a Commis­sioner could have satisfied himself affirmatively on these matters in respect to Solo­monia Melovidov, who is herself, as stated above, a ward of the Government ... 62

St. Paul Agent to Superintendent, February 2, 1924

To have taken the matter up with Mr. Bolshanin (U.S. Commissioner in Unal­aska) would doubtless have raised fairly a legal question as to the wardship which the U.S. Government may or may not exercise over the native residents of the Pribilof Islands, which I am not in a position to answer ...

Whatever the status of these people may be, one point is absolutely clear and that is that the Department has every right to restrict landing upon the Pribilof Islands and in exercising that authority could no doubt prevent unauthorized adoptions ...

This is the first instance in which a native of the Pribilof Islands has adopted a child not already resident on the Islands. If the precedent thus established is followed out to its logical conclusion, any native of the Islands may go to Unalaska or elsewhere and by legally adopting one or any number of native children, can bring them to the Pribilof Islands where they will be supported...

With the view of protecting the interests of the Government as well as the interests of the Seal Island Natives, it is suggested that a suitable regulation covering this matter is made by proper authority.63

Ultimately, the Bureau granted permission to bring the adopted child to the Pribilofs, probably for the reason the agent suggested, to avoid stirring up questions about the legality of Aleut wardship. The following year two SL Paul women made application to adopt their younger sisters from another village. This time the Bureau refused.

St. Paul Agent to Superintendent, January 21, 1925

Last season Mrs. Alexandria Bourdukofsky and Nellie Krukof made a request 0 adopt two of their sisters now at Ikatan (an Aleut village). It is not considered desirable to grant their request ... The Government cannot undertake to furnish food and subsistence to all of the natives of the Aleutian Islands who would really desire to go to the Pribilofs. No general rule can, however, be made as there might be instances where it would be desirable to permit natives from the Aleutian Islands to make their homes at the Pribilofs. This would probably be only in the case where grown boys desire to make the Pribilofs their home. Such boys could no doubt be worked to advantage by the Government in each instance.64

In 1933 the Bureau established a firm policy opposing adoption of children from other villages.

I wish to advise that the Bureau will not approve at this time of any Pribiw habitants adopting natives from villages other than the Pribilof Islands. It is especially necessary at this time to reduce expenses.65

Four years later the Office of Indian Affairs appealed to the Bureau to allow a St. George woman to adopt her younger sister in Unalaska because the sister's home life was very damaging. The Bureau flatly refused.

The Bureau of Fisheries appropriations are provided for maintenance and support of the Pribilof island natives only, and I do not see at present where we would have the right to permit natives not born on the islands to become permanent residents, except when they marry Pribilof natives.66

In essence, Bureau policy on this issue arbitrarily limited family size as a means of keeping costs down. This meant that the Bureau was not conceiving the goods and services by which it paid Aleuts as wages at all, for wages imply that workers control the use of their earnings. Furthermore, this policy involved a larger issue, for it struck a blow at the heart of a central Aleut cultural institution.

The long arm of Bureau control reached into the most intimate, personal aspects of Aleuts' lives. The Bureau still tried to regulate Aleuts' choice of marriage partners.

Superintendent to St. Paul Agent, December 3, 1935

The Bureau does not particularly approve of natives of the Pribilof Islands marrying Aleutian natives and bringing them to the islands as there are so many marriageable natives of both sexes at the islands.

In many cases where Pribilof natives have married Aleutian women and brought them to the Islands we have had considerable trouble with them on account of the fact that they are not good housekeepers or as cleanly as the Pribilof natives ...For this reason I would suggest that you attempt to talk John Fratis out of his in­tended trip to secure a wife.67

In the ideology of Bureau officials, what's the difference who an Aleut marries? Isn't a Pribilof maiden as good as one from elsewhere? This typical colonial mentality denies that Aleuts might want to search for love as much as anyone. Furthermore, this policy must have been very confusing to Aleuts when several decades earlier management followed an opposite one by coercing men to go outside the islands to find wives. In any case, this dehumanizing attitude combined with the Bureau's power to keep people from leaving the islands resulted in regulating Aleuts in the most fateful of life choices.

The Bureau even invaded the sanctuary of the family home.

August 22, 1927

Leonty Philemenof and his wife are having family quarrels. It was found necessary to separate them temporarily 68

August 25, 1938-St. Paul Island


Beginning today all card playing will terminate promptly at 10:45 p.m. There will be no card playing, or the playing of any other games, in native houses or in any other place after that hour. The recent epidemic of sickness has been attributed dir­ectly to loss of rest resulting from late card games. In the event the above orders are disregarded, card playing at night will be prohibited entirely.69

With all the other indignities heaped on them, Aleuts faced regulation in their private family hours.

In sum, this dramatic case of hidden, internal colonialism in the demo­cratic United States evolved from national colonialist attitudes toward Alaska, deeply embedded racist attitudes, and the particular mission and pattern of the Pribilof management institution. Its goals were seals and pro­fits; the Aleut sealers were secondary, instrumental to an end rather than an end in themselves. It involved only one short step from treatment as instruments to treatment as commodities, to be managed in the cheapest possible manner.

The colonial relationship found expression not only in economic exploitation and political domination but in a many-faceted process of dehumanization to socialize Aleuts for their role as commodities. Management gained staff cooperation in this process with rewards symbolizing superior status. And it justified its exploitation by pointing the finger of blame at its victims.

The powerful progressive reforms of the 1930s failed to dent this oppressive system. Management succeeded in perpetuating it, first because it wanted to, second because it was able to. The isolation of the islands and secrecy of the federal operation there hid the Pribilof situation from public view; management was virtually insulated from interest groups, within or outside the islands. Then came World War II, a war against the most terrible totalitarianism known to humankind. How did Pribilof colonialism fare in these circumstances?


1. Field Notes, St. Paul, Alaska, October 1975.

2. For an excellent discussion of Alaska colonialism, see George W. Rogem The Future of Alaska: Economic Consequences of Statehood (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962), pp. 80-92.

3. Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957), pp. 201-205; Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and The Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965)

4. Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre.

5. George Rogers, An Economic Analysis of the Pribilof Islands, 1870-1946,Prepared for the Indian Claims Commission Dockets Nos. 352 and 369 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1976), p. 117.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.,p. 124.

8. Ibid., p. 159.

9. Ibid., computed from Table 36, p. 199.

10. In the 1920s, harvests ranged from about 15,000 to 40,000. In the 1930s they increased to peak of about 65,000. 1941 saw the highest harvest in this period of 95,013. Rogers, An Economic Analysis p. 117.

11. Ibid., pp. 138-141.

12. Order, by H.C. Fassett, Agent and Caretaker, St. Paul Island, February 7, 1917. Bureau of Fisheries Records, St. Paul Island.

13. H.L. Smith, Commissioner of Fisheries, to A.H. Proctor, Superintendent, June 6, 1921. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

14. H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent, to L.C. McMillin, Agent and Caretaker, St. George Island, April 20, 1936. Bureau Records, Federal Archives and Records Center, Seattle.

15. Ralph Baker, Junior Administrative Assistant, Division of Alaska Fisheries, "Native Canteens of the Pribilof Islands, Alaska," October 20, 1941. p. 4, Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

16. Between 1913 and 1917 the government suffered a net loss of nearly $600,000. U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Finance, Accounting Division, Accounting Report on Pribilof Islands: Aleut Community of St. Paul Island and Aleut Tribe v. United States, Docket Nos. 352 and 369 1977), p. 20.

17. U.S. Department of Commerce, Appropriation Bill for 1935, Hearing Before the Subcommittee of U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., 1934, p. 265.

18. H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent,, to St. Paul and St. George Agents, January 21, 1925. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

19. U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Appropriation Bill for 1923, Hearing Before the Subcommittee of House Committee on Appropriations -67 th Cong., 2nd sess., 1922, p. 653.

20. See, for example, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, Alaska Fishery and Fur-Seal Industries in 1935, Administrative Report No. 23,p. 4 7.

21. Field Notes, St. Paul, October 1975.

22. I bid.

23. Superintendent to A.J. Messner, Acting Agent and Caretaker, October 15, 1930, Bureau Records, Federal Archives.ber 15, 1930. Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

24. Samuel R. Berenberg, M.D., "Annual Medical Report, 1941-42," Medical Department, Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Paul Island, Alaska, pp. 49-50. (This is a draft copy of the report furnished by Fredericka Martin who was Dr. Berenberg's wife at the time the report was written.)

25. Written statement by St. Paul Aleut, prepared for Hearings on Violation of the Fair and Honorable Dealings Clause of the Indian Claims Commission Act, circa 1969.

26. Fredericka Martin, "The Wind is No River," unpublished manuscript, p. 194. Fredericka Martin Records.

27. Ibid., p. 461.

28. Dorothy M. Jones, A History of United States Administration in the Pri­bilof Islands, 1867-1946, Prepared for the Indian Claims Commission Docket Nos. 352 and 369 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1976), p. 119.

29. Field notes, St. Paul, October 1975.

30. Field notes, St. George and St. Paul, October 1975.

31. "Agents' Annual Report," St. Paul Island, April 15, 1935. Bureau Re­cords, St. Paul.

32. "Agents' Annual Report," St. Paul Island, 1945. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

33. H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent, to Commissioner of Fisheries, March 6, 1928. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

34. St. Paul Agent to H.J. Christoffers, January 27, 1926. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

35. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

36. Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

37. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

38. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

39. Fredericka Martin, "Recapitulation of Errors of Administration and Abuse and Exploitation of Pribilof American Aleuts by the United States Government, 1867 to 1946," unpublished. Fredericka Martin Records.

40. Helen A. Shenitz, "Pribilovians, The Forgotten People of Alaska." Paper presented at the Alaska Science Conference, Fairbanks, Alaska, August 3, 1965, pp. 10-12.

41. A.L. Thurman, Solicitor, to Secretary of Commerce, February 15, 1918, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

42. Field notes, St. Paul, October 1975.

43. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

44. Field notes, St. George and St. Paul, October, 1975.

45. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

46. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

47. Don C. Foote, Victor Fischer, and George W. Rogers, St. Paul Community Study: An Economic and Social Analysis of St. Paul, Pribilof Islands,Alaska (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1968), pp. 30-31, 34.

48. Field notes, St. Paul, October 1975.

49. St. Paul Physician to Superintendent, October 13, 1937. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

50. H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent, to J.W. Lipke, Agent and Caretaker, April 28, 1924. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

51. Fredericka Martin to Dorothy Jones, February 12, 1976.

52. For a thoughtful definition of self-government, see Gerald A. McBeath and Thomas A. Morehouse, Alaska Native Self-Government (Anchorage: Un­iversity of Alaska, Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1978), p. 3. Soon to be published as The Dynamics of Alaska Native Self-Government (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1980).

53. St. Paul Community to Commissioner of Fisheries, October 10, 1916, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

54. Ralph Baker, "Native Canteens of the Pribilof Islands," October 20, 1941, p. 1, Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

55. "St. Paul Island Native Canteen," May 6, 1927; "Regulations Regarding Handling of Native Canteens on the Pribilofs," April 20, 1928, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

56. For example, Agent Daniel Benson also doubled as the U.S. Commis­sioner in the Pribilofs in 1945. Jack Martin, U.S. Commissioner, to Daniel Benson, U.S. Commissioner, St. George, July 27, 1940. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

57. St. Paul Agent and Caretaker to T.H. Erickson, Jr., Administrative Assist­ant, March 13, 1940, Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

58. Field notes, St. George, October 1975.

59. Field notes, St. Paul, October 1975.

60. Field notes, St. George and St. Paul, October 1975.

61. School Report, signed by Hubert G. Armstrong, teacher, contained in letter, E.C. Johnston, Agent and Caretaker, St. Paul, to Superintendent, May 27, 1927. Bureau Records, St. Paul.

62. Henry O'Malley, Commissioner, to H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent, January 22, 1924, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

63. A.H. Proctor-to H.J. Christoffers, February 2, 1924, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

64. H.J. Christoffers to H.H. Hungerford, Agent and Caretaker, St. Paul, January 21, 1925, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

65. Superintendent to H.A. Peterson, St. Paul Island, January 24, 1933, Bur­eau Records, Federal Archives.

66. H.J. Christoffers to George C. Penny, Office of Indian Affairs, Juneau, January 5, 1937, Bureau Records, Federal Archives.

67. H.J. Christoffers, Superintendent, to J.W. Lipke, Agent, December 3, 1935, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

68. Pribilof Islands Daily Log, St. George, August 22, 1927. 69. Notice, signed by John Lipke, Agent and Caretaker, and George Roger Chute, Assistant Agent, August 25, 1938, Bureau Records, St. Paul.

Chapter 6 - Refugees

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