I was struck. It wasn’t a feeling I was expecting and perhaps my feelings are overwhelmed by the times, but in taking that quick shot of the single coral-pink tulip and the half gone daffodils amongst the wild array of indigenousness, I felt the insidious burden of first contact seeming to roll over me like eons of ragged expectations.
June 3, 1942 was the third event in the modern history of the Unangax of the Aleutian Islands that indelibly changed our pathway. The first, in 1741, was contact with the Russian fur procurers which resulted in a near genocide. The second, occurring in 1867, was the purchase of Alaska by the United States, known for years as a folly. This event that sold the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the land for $7.2 Million put the Unangax people into the assimilation machine that forced Natives to stop speaking their language, eating native foods, practicing native religions, and associating with other natives, and being forced into speaking only English. Only then could they be considered civilized. Only then could a native who came close to this interpretation of civilized life become an American citizen. The third event, the invasion of the Aleutian Islands by the Japanese Imperial Army, led to the forced evacuation of all of the Unangax from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands to abandoned mines and fish caneries in southeast Alaska, absolutely stripping them of their civil and personal liberties. Their return, in late 1945, over three years from departure, brought them back having lost 10 to 15 percent of their population to death and back to homes and churches that had been vandilized and/or burned by the military that was supposed to protect them.
So we honor our lost villages, our lost people, our disappearing language and culture as we also honor those who gave their lives and youth to our fog-enshrouded islands in the protection of the United States. We have mitigated our anger and dispair and have come, once again, to accept our past as a way of growing and becoming strong so that we can reclaim those parts of our culture that swim at the edge of the abyss. Our mantra is, and always will be, adaptation.
Bald Eagles are very prolific in Unalaska. After a long, soaking rain it is not unusual to see eagles on every light pole with wings outspread trying to dry out. Even two and three to a pole. During salmon season when the humans are fishing there are always eagles lined up on my mother’s roof, watching us fillet fish, and then with a flip of the head, watching for fish jumping in the bay.
It is unusual, though, to find two absolutely abandoned nests that were active only days ago. This one, I can only speculate about. This nest is located in a remote area, halfway up a cliff. The other one, located on the cliffs near the senior center, has a story. There was a witness. One of the residents of the center told my husband that the pair of eagles were not actively on the nest when another eagle, with talons extended, came and snatched the baby eaglet out of the nest. The parents took chase, the baby was dropped by the evading eagle, and the parents actually ended up trying to drown the offending eagle in the lake. Of course the baby was dead. The parent eagles sat on the grass over hanging the cliff for 2 or three days. They have now completely abandoned the nest.
Survival, even for birds of prey at the top of the food chain, is never a given.