Ounalashka Corporation (OC) is the Alaska Native Village corporation for the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska. It was formed in 1973 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
Unalaska is a volcanic island located about 792 air miles from Anchorage in the Aleutian Archipelago, the chain of islands that stretches some 1500 miles from the Alaska Peninsula to Kamchatka, Russia.
Incorporated with an original 269 Unangan shareholders, Ounalashka Corporation’s shareholder base now represents about 400 original shareholders and original shareholders’ descendants.
Under ANCSA, OC is entitled to 115,000 acres of land on Unalaska, Amaknak, and Sedanka Islands. To date, the US Bureau of Land Management has conveyed approximately 112,000 acres. Selection and conveyance of remaining land depends on development plans.
Much of the land OC owns is undevelopable given the terrain of the islands, but the land within the city limits was well chosen by early leadership. Site work done during World War II set the stage for development in later years.
Ounalashka Corporation is a for profit corporation. Its business is land leasing and development. OC is the major land owner in Unalaska, also known as the #1 fishing port in the nation in volume and value for about the past ten years. OC leases land to commercial and residential interests — some short-term and some long-term. Commercial tenants include firms in the fishing industry and firms that support it, as well as firms in international shipping , sand and gravel extraction, retail, and more.
It is the Board of Directors’ policy to lease only. Lease terms range from month-to-month rentals for apartments and units in Kashega Ministorage to very long-term leases of 50+ years. OC’s net profit reached a record 34.5% of revenue at year’s end in 2000.
OC contributes annually to charitable organizations that benefit its shareholders and the community of Unalaska as a whole. OC makes monetary and in-kind contributions to the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, the Unalaska City School for many programs, the Museum of the Aleutians, Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence, the Holy Ascension Orthodox Cathedral and its Council, and Unalaska Seniors, to name a few beneficiaries.
Ounalashka Corporation has also formed a foundation to provide scholarships for post-secondary education to its shareholders and their descendants.
The Edna P. McCurdy Scholarship Foundation, named after a founding director and former teacher, also provides funding for OC’s Mentoring Program. This program identifies and trains qualified shareholders or shareholder’s descendants for positions in management at the corporation.
Historically, the village of Unalaska has been the home of the Unangan people, and trade and travel has been orally documented for an estimated 8,000 years, at least.
International commerce began in 1759 when Stepan Glotov and accompanying fur hunters spent two years on Unalaska and nearby Umnak Island. The name “Aleut” came from Russian explorers, and its meaning is obscure, so the present-day Natives of Unalaska and most of the Aleutian Islands prefer their term of self-designation: Unangan (or Unangas in the Eastern Aleutian dialect). Collectively, Unangax^ (with the “^” positioned directly over the “x”) is the proper term for the Native people of the Aleutian region.
Recent archaeological investigation in the Unalaska area provides evidence that the Unangan (meaning “the People of the passes,” according to linguist Moses Dirks) have inhabited the Aleutian Islands for at least nine thousand years.
The Aleutian Islands are home to the earliest-known continually inhabited coastal site in North America. Artifacts found in the archaeological site at Margaret Bay were ancient at the time the Egyptians were building the first step pyramids.
This group of hunters, whalers and fishers are the original inhabitants of the Chain, predating Russian settlement of the region by thousands of years. Resources from the sea provided their livelihood.
The climate and topography of the islands, although rugged and, to a large extent, unforgiving, spawned an Unangan culture rich in art and oral tradition. The Unangan are widely known in particular for ultra-fine grass basketry, sleek and efficient wood-frame iqyan (skin boats) and mastery in handling the iqyan at sea, excellence as marine mammal hunters, superior skin sewing and embroidery techniques, and beautiful, streamlined bentwood hats and visors.
By 1745, the Unangan had come into contact with Russian explorers, fur traders and hunters. There were inevitable clashes between the strangers and the islanders, as the Russians’ treatment of the Unangan was less than favorable. At this time, the explorers branded the Unangan/Unangas people with the moniker, “Aleut”, a word of uncertain meaning and origin that has become a catch-all name for various Alaska Native groups.
Under Russian control, the Unangan were consolidated into fewer and fewer communities to expedite the efficiency in which the Russians could take advantage of their hunting skills. The decline of the Unangam population was rapid and occurred for varied reasons, from out-and-out genocide to contact diseases brought by the newcomers.
Russian Orthodox missionary Father Ioann Veniamenov (canonized in 1977 as Saint Innocent) arrived in Unalaska for pastoral appointment on July 24, 1824. He lived at Unalaska for ten years, during which time he rebuilt the Orthodox chapel, learned Unangam Tunuu (the language of the Unangan), devised an “Aleut” alphabet, opened an elementary school, and translated the Russian Short Catechism and the Gospel of St. Matthew into Unangam Tunuu. This is but a short list of his accomplishments. He also made pastoral visits to villages along the Chain and in the Pribilof Islands by iqyan in fair weather and foul.
The Unangan became literate in Unangam Tunuu beginning as early as 1830, a result of the education provided by the Orthodox Church. Many became literate in Russian and English as well, and the Church continued its efforts until 1912, well after the 1867 purchase of Alaska by the United States. In 1912, the U.S. government closed the church-sponsored schools.
Unalaska and the International Port of Dutch Harbor are best known of late as the United States’ number one fishing port in both volume and value for the past several years. Growth from a small predominately Native village in the late 1960’s to the 4000-plus permanent residents of 1999 hinged on the fishing industry.
Unalaska was occupied by U.S. armed forces during World War II . The build-up began in 1941 and the influx of construction crews and armed forces personnel forever changed the face of the village. On June 3, 1942, Unalaska was bombed by the Japanese. Shortly thereafter, all Native residents were forced to leave the island and were interned in camps in Southeast Alaska where overcrowding and unsanitary conditions were the norm, and many lives were lost.
This was not a military evacuation particular to Unalaska Island; the entire Unangam population of the Aleutian region was evacuated, as well as the Pribilof Islands to the north. When the people returned in 1945, they found that U.S. troops had ransacked and vandalized most of their homes. Four small villages were never repopulated: Attu, Makushin, Kashega and Biorka. The inhabitants of Makushin, Kashega and Biorka were absorbed into Unalaska’s Native population. The tundra is reclaiming the abandoned villages.
From the mid-1970’s to 1980, Unalaska was in the throes of boomtown madness. King crab fishermen were making big money, but taking most of it out of state. A crash of the king crab stocks in 1980-81 slowed things down a bit. The development of the market for surimi, fishmeal that can be flavored and formed to resemble seafoods that are more expensive, and other meat products, began in the mid-1980’s. Surimi is made from pollock, a largely flavorless, white-fleshed fish. In this small town of about 4,000 permanent residents, it is not unusual for population to swell to 15,000 during busy fishing seasons.
That transient population includes fishermen and seafood processors, as well as fishing company logistics agents and people who work for businesses that repair boat mechanics and electronics, and provide numerous services to the fleet as well as the community. Fishing seasons are now less concentrated than in the past and are being spread out over more of the year. Unalaska is also the home of a protected, deep-water port that hosts two large marine cranes, serving two major international shipping companies as a stopover port for domestic and international shipping.