Staunton, August 16 – The 350 Aleuts living on Russia’s remote Bering Island, only a handful of whom still speak their native language, are gearing up to fight, possibly with the violence of a last stand, against Moscow’s plans to confine them to a reservation where they will be forced to give up their traditional way of life and thus put on the road to disappearing.
Three aspects of this situation make it noteworthy. First, a central meme of Russian propaganda is that Moscow unlike Western countries has never confined one of its minorities to a reservation. But this move, coming after the Russian government gathered together most of the country’s 500 Aleuts into a single place shows that is not true.
Second, because all the decisions about the Aleuts and their lives are being made thousands of kilometers away by bureaucrats who know little or nothing about the peoples they are control but assume a one-size-fits-all approach is invariably the correct one, this numerically small people may soon disappear, something some in Moscow say doesn’t happen in Russia.
And third, insisting that “we don’t want to be put in a reservation,” the Aleuts of the village of Nikolskoye “have begun a revolt,” which some of their number say may soon turn violent as their last stand against the all too real danger that this latest Moscow move will lead to their destruction (snob.ru/entry/181323/
Two generations ago, the Soviet authorities concentrated the Aleut in Nikolskoye, wiping out many of the smaller villages in which that people had traditionally lived. Now, the Russian authorities want to include that village within the confines of a national park where the Aleut will be unable to practice their traditional way of life.
In fact, Nikolskoye is already within a national forest where the traditional hunting and fishing rights of the Aleut aren’t supposed to be practiced; but for the last 20 years, Moscow officials have looked the other way as the Aleut have continued to live and work as they did. Now. Moscow wants to enforce the rules without exception.
They Aleuts have fought Russian rule many times before, most recently in the 1990s, and today they are “inclined aggressively,” saying “there will be much blood and a war,” if Moscow ignores their needs in the name of standardization, Mikolaychuk reports. The reason for their passion is that they see the Russian authorities as taking away their future.
At present, there are only about 500 Aleuts in Russia as a whole. (There are about 2,000 more in the United States.) They have already seen their language put on the way to disappearance: At present in Nikolskoye, there are only two Aleuts who speak it: one is 83 and the other is 92.
Russia’s Aleuts live so far away from any urban center and can be reached only by air much of the time and sometimes not even by that given the weather; and they do not understand why their hunting and fishing practices need to be destroyed along with their language in the name of fulfilling the plans of officials who know nothing about them.
“Now,” the Snob journalist says, the Aleuts in Nikolskoye “are awaiting a commission from the Presidential Administration” that will determine their fate, one that may even include forcibly resettling them somewhere else. “As always,” she writes, “the decision of several people will decide how things will go with the [Aleut] language and culture.”