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
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,
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
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.