The Alutiiq people are also referred to as Aleut (plural form “Alutiit“), also called by their ancestral name Sugpiaq (plural form “Sugpiat” or “Sugpiak“) as well as Pacific Eskimo or Pacific Yupik. At present, the most commonly used title is Alutiiq (singular) or Alutiik or Alutiit (plural). They are not to be confused with the Aleuts, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands. The Alutiiq are a southern coastal Native people of Alaska.
Many of these various terms derive from the names that Russian fur traders and settlers gave to the people from the region, as well as their own names for their people.
Russian occupation began in 1784 with the brutal massacre of a large number of Sugpiat at Refuge Rock (known as the Awa’uq Massacre) just off the coast of Sitkalidak Island near the present-day village of Old Harbor (Nuniaq).
The Sugpiaq term for Aleut is Alutiiq (meaning “the real people”). All three names (Alutiiq, Aleut, and Sugpiaq) are used now, according to personal preference.
Their language called Sugstun, (also called Sugcestun, Sugt’stun, and Sugtestunand) is one of the Eskimo languages belonging to the Yup’ik language branch. In 2010 the high school in Kodiak responded to requests from students and agreed to teach the Alutiiq language. The Kodiak dialect of the language was being spoken by only about 50 persons, all of them elderly, and the dialect was in danger of being lost entirely.
They traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whale, as well as rich land resources such as berries and land mammals. Before European contact with Russian fur traders, the Alutiiq lived in semi-subterranean homes called ciqlluaq.
The Alutiiq today live in coastal fishing communities, where they work in all aspects of the modern economy, while also maintaining the cultural value of subsistence.
Their traditional homelands include Prince William Sound and the outer Kenai Peninsula (Koniag Alutiiq), the Kodiak Archipelago and the Alaska Peninsula (Chugach Sugpiaq).
In the early 1800s there were more than 60 Alutiiq villages in the Kodiak archipelago with an estimated population of 13,000 people. Today more than 4,000 Alutiiq people live in Alaska.