Pribilof Aleuts are descendants of the aboriginal residents of the Aleutian Islands, who developed a distinctive and sophisticated maritime culture based on the resources of the region, documented as far back as 8,000 years ago. The Bering Sea was colonized in a direct and inhumane manner by Russian commercial fur interest beginning in 1742, with the resulting demise of all but remnants of the Aleut culture through warfare and disease. Because the Aleuts were such efficient hunters of the ocean, the Russians converted the conquered Aleut natives to the status of indentured hunters, who hunted, literally, to stay alive and protect their families.
The decline of the sea otter populations in the Bering Sea due to over harvest, led the Russians to seek other furs, and ultimately led them to uninhabited St. Paul and St. George Islands located 250 miles north of the Aleutian Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea. On these islands, millions of the world’s population of Northern Fur Seals gather every summer for feeding and breeding purposes, and leave themselves particularly vulnerable to harvest both at land and sea. Aleuts from the Aleutian Chain villages were conscripted into servitude on these islands and the two Pribilof communities were created out of the 18th and 19th century world’s appetite for furs.
The long history of the struggle of the Pribilof Aleuts for independence is too complicated for brief treatment, and documented elsewhere, but significant events can be dated. In 1867, Alaska was sold to the United States, along with the fur seal colonies of the Pribilofs, which was a major export of Alaska at the time. The colonial operation was transferred to the United States, and operated as a commercial sealing venture by the US Bureau of Fisheries. During WWII, like Japanese citizens, the Aleuts were removed from the islands and interred during the war (with much resulting death and illness), except that the government shipped Aleut men back to the islands to conduct the commercial harvest.
The Aleuts remained in economic servitude, as wards of the federal government, with the fur seal harvest as an economy, until 1984. In 1972 Tanadgusix was created as a part of the Alaska Native Lands Claims settlement, to represent the Aleut shareholders of St. Paul Island. During the 70’s and early 80’s the Aleuts struggled to settle their rights to the land on the island, which is located in the Aleutian Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and their economic rights to benefit of commercial fur sealing.
In 1984 the federal government, in response to environmental pressure politics, abandoned the commercial fur seal harvest and made its further use unlawful, and Pribilof Aleuts overnight were confronted with no economy and a long history of government dependence, in an area rich in natural ocean resources, but dominated by the fishing nations of the world. It was within this context that TDX undertook a corporate development to make an economic future for itself and its shareholders, and seek to develop for the Pribilof Aleut people an economic independence and diversity that would allow a preservation of the Aleut culture and communities.