The History of Atka

While all the people of the Aleutian region have a common, unified identity as Unangax people, throughout the Aleutian island chain region there have always been traditional Tribal designations for different village and island-groups.  The traditional Tribal name of the people of Atka and the surrounding area is "Niigugix."  The local dialect is known locally as Niigugim Tunuu, the Niigugix (aka Western or Atka) dialect of Unangam Tunuu (the Unangax Language, or "Aleut" language).      

 

Tribal Administrator

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The island has been occupied by Unangas for at least 2,000 years. Unangas speak the Western dialect, known since the Russian era as “Aleuts”. Recent archaeological evidence indicates that the present village site may have had human use since prehistoric times. The first contact with Russians occurred in 1747, and Atka became an important trade site and safe harbor for Russians. In 1787 a number of hunters were enslaved and relocated to the Pribilofs to work in the fur seal harvest. The townsite was settled in the 1860s. After the end of the sea otter hunting era in the late 1800s, Atka had no viable cash economy. Reindeer were introduced to the Island in 1914.

 

During the 1920s, Atka became relatively affluent due to fox farming. After the Japanese attacked Unalaska and seized Attu and Kiska in June 1942, the U.S. Government evacuated Atka residents to the Ketchikan area. Atka was burned to the ground to prevent Japanese forces from using it and advancing. The community was rebuilt by the U.S. Navy after the War and residents were allowed to return. Many Attu villagers, released from imprisonment in Japan in 1945, relocated to Atka. This exposure to the outside world brought many changes in the traditional culture and attitudes in the community. The City was incorporated in 1988.   

Courtesy Crystal Dushkin and the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association