Winds of Change:

Past and Present in
Alaska's Aleutian Islands
Thursday, June 12th at 7:00 p.m.
Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol

Teacher, writer and artist Ray Hudson lived at Unalaska, the largest community in the thousand mile chain of islands, from 1964 until moving to Middlebury in 1992. When he first went to the community as a first and second grade teacher, Unalaska was a small village of about 300 people. As commercial king crab fishing developed, the population grew until today there are about 4,000 residents. Fishing for crab, codfish, and Pollock continues to dominate the economy. Unalaska is frequently known as “Dutch Harbor” because of one of the ports in the vicinity and the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” is filmed there.

The community, however, is far more than depicted in the television series. It is a center of cultural importance for the Unangan (Aleut) people and of historical significance for the state. It is the oldest European settlement in Alaska. In the 19th century it was a center for the spread of literacy in the first Alaska Native language to have a script and of the Orthodox church. Unalaska served as a gateway to the gold rush at Nome, and earlier to the Klondike. During World War II, Unalaska was attacked by the Japanese. The Native people were forced into an evacuation and a resettlement in horrendous conditions. For over a decade now, the port of Unalaska has ranked among the top fishing ports in the United States.

Hudson’s involvement with Unangan culture began when he asked an elderly woman if she would teach him basketry. Aleut baskets are among the finest grass weavings in the Americas. Over the course of nine years, as he learned the various components of the craft, this same woman began to share fragments of her people’s history. Combining this with research in various state and national archives, Hudson has continued his interest in Aleutian history. While teaching high school, he supervised the publication of eight volumes of local history. He has published articles on Aleut basketry, Aleut participation during World War II, and the introduction of Orthodox Christianity to the Aleutians. His memoir of learning basketry, Moments Rightly Placed, was published in 1998 and was recently listed among the top history books by the Alaska Historical Society. The publisher is issuing a new edition this summer. Family After All: Alaska’s Jesse Lee Home was published in September by Hardscratch Press of California. It tells the story of an Aleutian boarding school and orphanage for Native children that operated from 1889 to 1925. An Aleutian Ethnography by Lucien Turner, the writings of a 19th century collector for the Smithsonian Institution that Hudson edited and introduced, will be published this fall by the University of Alaska Press. In 1991 he received a Governor’s Award for the Arts for his work on behalf of the arts of the Aleutian Islands. The Alaska history room in the Unalaska public library has been named after him.

Although living a long ways from the Aleutians, Hudson continues his ties to the island and with Unangan people. He has returned for various events: a conference on basketry, World War II commemorations, to conduct oral history interviews with elders, and to give talks to the local Native corporation and the local museum. He has recently been assisting with planning for the Museum of the Aleutians’ show celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first Orthodox chapel at Unalaska.