The Aleut Peoples of St. George
St. George Island
St. George is one of the five Pribilof Islands. Of these five islands, only St. George and St. Paul, lying about 45 miles apart, are inhabited. The total population of St. George and St. Paul is about 700; St. George's population is around 160.
The first known sighting of these remote islands was in 1786. Having hunted the sea otter nearly to extinction, Russian fur hunters searched relentlessly for the fabled breeding grounds of the northern fur seal. It was Russian Fleet Master Ocrassim Pribylov who heard the bellow of the fur seals through the heavy fog and discovered the islands that came to bear his name. He named St. George Island for his ship.
To harvest the highly valued fur seals, the Russian enslaved Aleuts from the Aleutian Islands and transported them to St. George and St. Paul islands. These were the ancestors of present day residents. Russian names and the Russian Orthodox Church are reminders of that era.
In 1867, when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the federal government took over administration of the Pribilof Islands, its people, and wildlife. For many years the Pribilof Aleuts were treated as wards of the government. It was not until 1983, in fact, that the Pribilof people were given full control of their islands.
Today the economy of the Pribilofs is based on tourism and the fishing industry.