“it wasn’t Russian sailors themselves who were clubbing or shooting each of these animals. The Aleutian Islands, and much of the southern rim of Alaska that Russian shipmen explored, already housed tens of thousands of locals. Aleuts and Tlingits, Inuit and Yupik, nation after nation of Alaska Natives already claimed a home in the region, largely untouched by European explorers.
And then the Russians came. And just as they had among Indigenous peoples in Siberia — and just as British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese explorers had done in the warmer climes of the Americas — Russian troops saw Indigenous peoples as little more than a subhuman hindrance, but also as a potential means to an end.
It didn’t take long after the Russian landing for the familiar pattern of colonial crimes to play out, sending Indigenous populations reeling. Almost immediately, Russian colonizers began implementing the same playbook they’d perfected across Siberia. The first step was known as iasak, in which Russian representatives demanded tribute — furs, typically — from Indigenous populations. In order to assure compliance, Russian traders implemented the playbook’s second element: amanaty, in which Russians would seize hostages from Indigenous populations, held until the iasak requirements were completed. Often, Russian representatives would kidnap the children of local leaders — all the better to ensure compliance. In some cases, as historian Anne Hyde has written, the Russians would abduct the children of up to half of the male populations of a given community.
Nor did they stop there. As the U.S.’s National Institute for Health notes, such an arrangement allowed the Russians to effectively “enslave” local populations. Demanding “furs in exchange for [the] lives” of women and children, Russians would “sexually exploit the hostages” — and even “execute the hostages” should the fur intake fall short. All of it, just “to set an example” for other recalcitrant Indigenous populations.”