Elders Return Home to 'Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians'

Tuesday, December 09 2014

Nick Lekanoff, Sr. and his daughter return to Makushin in August 2009. (Courtesy: NPS)

Three traditional villages on the far side of Unalaska Island fell to ruin after their Unangan residents were relocated during World War II. Now, a new book tells the stories of Kashega, Biorka and Makushin villages -- from settlement, to abandonment, to the return of the elders who grew up there.

KUCB’s Annie Ropeik sat down with authors Ray Hudson and Rachel Mason to talk more about Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians.

On how the three villages came to be abandoned:

Ray Hudson: "[When World War II broke out], the people were taken to Southeast in Alaska, and at the war’s end they were brought to Unalaska or to Akutan, not back to their small villages. ... It had to do with the size of the villages, with the difficulties of reestablishing them, with the damage that had been done to the villages during the war ...  like looting, and also just the abandonment to the weather for three or four years would do a job on any structure here."

On what the former residents remember of their homes:

Hudson: "Most of the people I interviewed were children at the time of the evacuation, or very young adults. So they don’t have memories of the communities as vibrant, interlocking places where people lived. The memories from childhood can sometimes be very selective, you know, and often very positive -- where we played, who we played with, what we enjoyed doing, those kinds of things."

On trekking out to the village sites with the elders:

Rachel Mason: "[I remember] the descendants of Makushin pushing through the tall grass -- there was an emotional significance of coming back there that everybody felt. I think it was important to the children and grandchildren of the people who had lived there to stand on that soil. ... just being on the place where their ancestors had been or where they had been children was very meaningful to people."

On continuing to document the villages' histories:

Mason: "There’s been a widening network of people who are interested in the project. From looking at the book, seeing pictures that they recognize, we’re still learning about new connections between the villages -- identifying people in the photos -- and so bringing it all together, as Ray has brought together documentation from a variety of sources, like the commercial records and church records and priest journals ... will help people to think of new ideas that will lead to further knowledge about the villages." 
Hudson: "Certainly, families who have living family members and those who’ve passed away from these villages, they should do their best to preserve any stories that are in the family. Because by no means is this book complete, and could very well be wrong in some of its assumptions, but if families could preserve these stories in one way or another, that would be extremely valuable."

Ray Hudson is a former Unalaska resident and Aleutian historian. Rachel Mason is the senior cultural anthropologist for the National Park Service in Alaska. They've worked on the Lost Villages project in collaboration with the Ounalashka Corporation. For a free copy, contact Rachel Mason at rachel_mason@nps.gov or 907-644-3472. 

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