Cradle of the Storms (Part One)

The Aleutians: Cradle of the Storms is a two part series that tells the absorbing story of an island chain and its people who have endured and survived wave after wave of invaders. In Part One we reveal the storm lashed islands and the 9000 year culture that is forever changed by fur-seeking outsiders.

Produced by NHNZ

The Aleutian Islands span the seas between Alaska and Siberia, a desolate necklace of wind-stripped terrain, ravaged by weather that has earned it the name “the Cradle of the Storms.” It is the world’s longest archipelago, a chain of islands stretching some 2000 kilometres, with a volatile physical makeup, birthed as it was from hundreds of drowned volcanoes. Earthquakes and what has been called the worst weather in the world make this locale a cauldron of conflict.

For thousands of years the people of this most remote part of the world had been nourished by the sea, living a life of self-sufficiency.

But first Russian and then American colonists wreaked havoc with their way of life as they plundered the once teeming populations of seals, whales and otters.

They also wreaked havoc with the Aleut people. Prior to the Russians’ arrival, the Aleut population may have been as high as 20,000. Within two generations, those numbers had dropped to roughly 2,000.

Slowly the Russians formed a working relationship with the Aleuts. It strengthened as many Russian seamen chose to live among the Aleut, marrying Aleut women and had children within the Aleut villages. Along with these men came the religion of their homeland, Russian Orthodoxy.

With the arrival of the Russian Orthodox missionaries came strict orders from Catherine the Great to respect the Native people, to learn their languages, to preserve their customs and to persuade them to bow to the Russian crown.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska for $7.2 million — 125 years of Russian rule had come to an end.

Though it hardly seemed possible, the Americans were even more adept at plundering the environment than their Russian predecessors. In the first 23 years of ownership, the US was able to surpass the number of fur mammals killed in 125 years of the Russian regime.

In 1911 a treaty was signed which protected the remaining marine mammals, particularly the sea otter. Two years later, this protection was further enhanced when the Aleutians were declared a federal wildlife refuge.

Though a reprieve of sorts had occurred for Aleutian wildlife, the transition to American rule would be chronically difficult for the Aleutian people. After centuries of struggle, the Aleut had learned how to accommodate Russian demands and had at least achieved some parity with them. Now, with the arrival of the Americans, they were back to where they’d started, treated as inferiors whose rights were often violated.

Episodes From This Series

Cradle of the Storms (Part Two)

57 minutes / 2002

Cradle of the Storms (Part One)

57 minutes / 2002