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  • [THUNDER]

  • [DRUMMING]

  • [WOMAN SPEAKING UNANGAM TUNUU LANGUAGE]

  • - THE STORY THAT I'M GOING TO SHARE RIGHT NOW IS A STORY

  • THAT BELONGS TO OUR PLACE AS OPPOSED TO BELONGING TO ANY

  • ONE PERSON.

  • [SPEAKING UNANGAM TUNUU]

  • TRADITIONALLY, WHEN WE HAVE A STORY OF THIS NATURE,

  • IT DOESN'T BEGIN WITH "ONCE UPON A TIME."

  • IT BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE "TANAM AWAA," AND "TANAM AWAA"

  • MEANS "OUR COUNTRY'S WORK."

  • [SPEAKING UNANGAM TUNUU]

  • THE FIRST TIME THAT OUR PEOPLE HAD ANY INTERACTION WITH THIS

  • ISLAND CAME IN THE FORM OF AN ALEUT HUNTER, AND HIS NAME

  • WAS IG,ADAGAX,.

  • IG,ADAGAX, WAS OUT IN HIS SINGLE HATCHED IQYAX, ON HIS OWN WHEN

  • HE WAS SWEPT AWAY IN A STORM AWAY FROM THE SHORELINES

  • OF THE ISLANDS OF HIS VILLAGE.

  • HE CAME FROM WHAT WE NOW CALL

  • THE ALEUTIAN CHAIN, ISLANDS

  • THAT STRETCH FROM ALASKA

  • TO RUSSIA ON THE EDGE

  • OF THE BERING SEA.

  • HE TRAVELED A LONG PERIOD OF TIME ON HIS OWN, AND HE ENDED

  • UP ON THIS ISLAND.

  • HE CAME AND HE STAYED LONG ENOUGH TO SEE HOW LIFE EXISTED

  • HERE, LONG ENOUGH TO SEE THAT THERE WERE FUR SEALS HERE,

  • THAT THERE WERE SEA OTTERS HERE, THAT THERE WERE MANY SEA

  • BIRDS HERE.

  • SO HE PROBABLY STAYED A WHOLE YEAR, ONE WHOLE CYCLE.

  • IG,ADAGAX, TOLD THE STORY TO HIS BROTHER, TO HIS SON, TO HIS

  • RELATIVES, AND HE SAID THAT HE ALWAYS WANTED TO COME BACK.

  • IG,ADAGAX, WANTED TO COME BACK, AND HE DID, THROUGH US,

  • BY US BEING HERE, AND BEING THAT WE ARE A PEOPLE THAT LIVE

  • GENERATIONALLY, YOU CARRY ON WHAT HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN FROM

  • PEOPLE BEFORE YOU.

  • WE HAD TO COME, IF NOT ONLY TO FULFILL IG,ADAGAX,'S NEEDS,

  • BUT ALSO TO PROTECT THE FUR SEAL.

  • WE HAVE HAD TO BE KEEPERS OF THE SEALS AND MAKE SURE THAT

  • THEY CONTINUE TO LIVE HERE BECAUSE IF THE FUR SEALS

  • AREN'T HERE, THEN WE WON'T BE, EITHER.

  • - [CHATTER]

  • [HORN BLOWS]

  • - WHOO!

  • - [CHEERING]

  • - SO WHO ARE WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE SEAL?

  • NOW WE'RE AMERICAN CITIZENS, ALASKAN NATIVES.

  • - GO, GO, GO, GO!

  • - MANY OF US STILL BEAR OUR RUSSIAN HERITAGE IN OUR NAMES,

  • LIKE MERCULIEF, ZACHAROF, MELOVIDOV, BOURDUKOFSKY, AND MY

  • LAST NAME, LESTENKOF.

  • AND WE'RE ALEUTS, OR AS WE CALL OURSELVES IN OUR OWN

  • LANGUAGE, UNANGAN, NATIVES OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS AND

  • OF A CULTURE THAT STRETCHES BACK AT LEAST 9,000 YEARS.

  • WHO WE ARE WEAVES TOGETHER AT LEAST 3 VERY

  • DIFFERENT TRADITIONS.

  • OURS IS A STORY OF SURVIVAL, OF ADAPTATION, AND A CONSTANT

  • THREAT OF EXTINCTION.

  • WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THESE REMOTE ISLANDS IS BEING

  • REPEATED ALL OVER THE WORLD.

  • NATIVE CULTURES AND NATIVE SPECIES ARE FIGHTING TO KEEP

  • FROM DISAPPEARING.

  • MY NAME IS AQUILINA DEBBIE LESTENKOF.

  • WHEN I WAS LITTLE, GROWING UP, I JUST REMEMBER THAT ALL THE

  • ELDERS CALLED ME BY AQUILINA, AND FOR THEM IT WAS RESPECTING

  • MY BAPTISM IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH.

  • DEBBIE MEANS BUMBLEBEE, SO MY ALEUT NAME IS AANASNAADAX,,

  • AND AANASNAADAX, TRANSLATES INTO ENGLISH AS BUMBLEBEE.

  • THIS IS SAINT PAUL ISLAND.

  • THIS IS WHERE I LIVE.

  • PRESENTLY WE HAVE ABOUT 450 PEOPLE RESIDING ON

  • SAINT PAUL ISLAND.

  • PEOPLE COME AND THEY SAY, "OH, THAT'S IN THE MIDDLE

  • OF NOWHERE," BUT REALLY, IT'S IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

  • SAINT PAUL ISLAND AND ITS SISTER ISLAND SAINT GEORGE ARE

  • CALLED THE PRIBILOF ISLANDS.

  • THEY ARE 300 MILES WEST OF THE MAINLAND OF ALASKA, 250 MILES

  • NORTH OF THE ALEUTIAN CHAIN, AND WAY CLOSER TO RUSSIA THAN

  • TO ALASKA'S STATE CAPITAL IN JUNEAU.

  • WE'RE DRIVING ON MAIN STREET, WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED MAIN

  • STREET DOWNTOWN, AND IT'S NOT WHAT IT WAS WHEN I

  • WAS YOUNGER.

  • WE SEE BUILDINGS THAT ARE BOARDED UP.

  • WE HAVE A HISTORIC HOTEL THAT IS NOW BOARDED UP AND NO

  • LONGER USED, AND WE HAVE WHAT WAS AN OLD GOVERNMENT OFFICE

  • WHEN THE GOVERNMENT MANAGED THE COMMERCIAL FUR SEAL

  • INDUSTRY, AND IT'S ALL BOARDED UP.

  • FOR ALMOST 200 YEARS, WE UNANGAN PEOPLE HAVE HAD OUR

  • LIVES RULED BY ONE THING: THE COMMERCIAL HARVEST OF FUR

  • SEALS TO MAKE FUR COATS.

  • IT WAS AN INDUSTRY WORTH MILLIONS AND MILLIONS

  • OF DOLLARS, BUT IT ALL CAME TO A CRASHING HALT IN 1983.

  • THAT'S WHEN PRESSURE FROM ANIMAL RIGHTS GROUPS LED THE

  • UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT TO PUT AN END TO THE COMMERCIAL

  • HARVEST OF FUR SEALS.

  • WHAT WAS MEANT TO PROTECT THE FUR SEALS INSTEAD LED TO

  • THE FUR SEALS BEING IGNORED.

  • [FUR SEALS GRUNTING]

  • SOMEONE ONCE SAID THAT THE PRIBILOF ISLANDS ARE

  • A MICROCOSM.

  • THIS IS A PLACE WHERE WE CAN LOOK AT HUMAN INTERACTIONS

  • WITH THE PLANET IN GENERAL.

  • WHERE ARE WE GOING TO GO NEXT?

  • I CO-DIRECT THE ECOSYSTEM CONSERVATION OFFICE

  • FOR THE ALEUT COMMUNITY OF SAINT PAUL ISLAND'S

  • TRIBAL GOVERNMENT.

  • IT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT NOT ONLY

  • THE ENVIRONMENT BUT ALL THE SPECIES THAT HAVE PROVIDED

  • FOR OUR PEOPLE CONTINUE TO EXIST IN ORDER THAT WE AND OUR

  • CULTURE CONTINUE TO EXIST.

  • [FUR SEALS GRUNTING]

  • MY FIRST MEMORIES OF THE FUR SEALS ARE KIND OF LIKE YOUR

  • VERY BEST FRIEND.

  • YOU DON'T REMEMBER WHEN YOUR FRIENDSHIP STARTED.

  • THE SOUNDS OF THE FUR SEALS HAVE HAD TO BE EMBEDDED

  • IN MY MEMORY.

  • EVEN WHEN THEY LEAVE HERE IN THE WINTER, THE SOUNDS ARE

  • STILL WITH ME.

  • [FUR SEALS GRUNTING]

  • WE CAN ONLY FATHOM HOW LONG THESE ISLANDS HAVE BEEN HERE,

  • AND THE FUR SEALS, THEY'VE BEEN HERE MANY, MANY YEARS

  • BEFORE HUMANS HAVE COME TO THE PRIBILOF ISLANDS.

  • FUR SEALS ARE MIGRATORY.

  • THEY SPEND THE WINTERS OUT AT SEA.

  • THEY DON'T COME BACK ASHORE TILL LATE SPRING.

  • IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER, THE ROOKERIES ARE EMPTY.

  • YOU CAN WALK OUT AND YOU CAN SMELL THEIR PRESENCE.

  • THEN BY MARCH, THE BULL SEALS START TO COME.

  • THEY HANG AROUND ON THE SHORES.

  • AND IN THE SUMMER, WE HAVE AN INCREASE OF SOUNDS, OF SMELLS,

  • KIND OF LIKE TURNING UP THE VOLUME.

  • [FUR SEALS BARKING LOUDLY]

  • NEVER A DULL MOMENT.

  • RIGHT NOW IT'S FALL.

  • THE CHILDREN ARE BACK AT SCHOOL, AND THE FUR SEAL PUPS

  • ARE IN SWIMMING SCHOOL.

  • THEY DO HAVE TO LEARN TO SWIM.

  • THEY WEREN'T BORN KNOWING HOW TO SWIM, OTHER THAN

  • HAVING FLIPPERS.

  • PEOPLE MAY THINK THAT IT IS THE SAME, BUT IT IS DIFFERENT

  • EVERY YEAR.

  • IT'S NOT SOMETHING YOU GROW TIRED OF.

  • IT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO AND KNOW THAT

  • YOU ARE HOME.

  • WHEN THEY COME HOME, YOU'RE HOME, TOO.

  • BUT HOW DID THE HOME OF THE FUR SEALS BECOME OUR HOME?

  • THESE WIND-SWEPT, TREELESS ISLANDS, SEEMINGLY

  • UNINHABITABLE, SURROUNDED BY THE COLD, ROUGH WATERS

  • OF THE BERING SEA.

  • THE TATTOO ON MY FACE TELLS THE STORY ABOUT THE JOURNEY

  • OUR ANCESTORS TOOK TO GET HERE.

  • THE CURVES REPRESENT FUR SEALS, AND THE CIRCLES

  • REPRESENT THE 5 GENERATIONS OF MY FAMILY THAT LIVED ON THESE

  • UNANGAN ISLANDS.

  • ALASKA IS HOME TO OVER 200 FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES

  • SPEAKING 22 UNIQUE DIALECTS.

  • THE UNANGAN PEOPLE COME FROM THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, AND WE

  • HAVE AT LEAST 3 DIALECTS.

  • THE FIRST OF MY UNANGAN RELATIVES THAT SHOWS UP

  • IN THE WRITTEN RECORD

  • IS MY GREAT-GREAT- GRANDMOTHER NEDEZHDA.

  • I KNOW THAT SHE WAS BORN ON ATKA AND THAT SHE HAD LIVED

  • PART OF HER LIFE ON BERING AND ATTU ISLANDS.

  • - UNANGAN CULTURE WAS SHAPED BY A TREMENDOUS RANGE OF BOTH

  • CHALLENGES AS WELL AS OPPORTUNITIES, AND RESPONDING

  • TO AN EXTRAORDINARILY DYNAMIC ENVIRONMENT

  • OVER THE SPACE OF 9,000 YEARS LED UNANGAN PEOPLE

  • TO DEVELOP AN AMAZING ARRAY OF TECHNOLOGICAL ADAPTATIONS,

  • INCLUDING, OF COURSE, THE FAMOUS KAYAK, WHICH WAS

  • THE FASTEST VESSEL IN THE WORLD.

  • I MEAN, THOSE THINGS COULD DO 12 KNOTS.

  • BEAUTIFULLY ENGINEERED TO RESPOND TO

  • THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT.

  • WEAPONRY SUPERBLY ADAPTED FOR GETTING SEA MAMMALS.