Keepers of the

Shy Place

On the tiny island of St. Paul Alaska, marine debris is taking its toll on the ecosystem and wildlife — especially the northern fur seal, a species of enormous cultural significance to the Unungan people who call this place home. Join this resilient community as they confront this challenge with action and profound wisdom in order to protect the vast ocean wilderness that defines them, feeds them, and that is quickly and irrefutably changing.

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If the fur seals are not here, we won’t be either.
Aquilina Lestenkof, Aleut Community of St Paul Island

The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island is a community in transition, adjusting to the cultural shock waves of Euro-American contact and governance. Beginning with enslavement by the Czar of Russia’s fur companies, through the 1867 Treaty of Cession to the United States of America with Marshall law and forced labor, the Unangan, or Aleut, people of St. Paul are on the front line of contact and efforts toward natural resources conquest. While the families relocated to St. Paul are strong people, generation-after-generation has been exposed to cultural, physical, and psychological trauma in the form of slavery, World War II Internment Camps, Native boarding schools away from home and family; corporal punishment for speaking in the Native language; epidemics of disease filling the Island’s cemetery; proselytization and condemnation of traditional spiritual practices; and overabundant interaction with the non-Native child welfare, justice, and corrections systems. Through this turbulent history, the Aleut people have maintained dignity and pride and have remained culturally resilient. The people of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island are survivors.

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