Reading #16

Theme 2: Industry

Period: American (1867 - present)

The National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for St. George Island, 1986 reported, "On June 3 and 4, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain. On June 7th Japanese landed on the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu. On June 14 the Special Agent on St. Paul received orders to prepare to evacuate the entire population of St. Paul within 24 hours. The Navy removed St. Paul Aleuts to an abandoned cannery at Funter Bay on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska and St. George Aleuts to an old mine site across the bay from the cannery. They remained there, except for a sealing crew sent back in 1943 and individuals who found work in Southeast Alaska, for the duration [of the war]." The following is an excerpt from a report funded by the Alaska State Legislature in 1981 (Kirtland, John C., and Coffin, David F. Jr. The Relocation and Internment of the Aleuts During World War II. Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association, Inc. September 15, 1981. Pp. 97-99. Funded by Legislative Grant No. 21-72-3-727).

The 1943 Fur Seal Harvest

. . . Only 127 sealskins were taken in 1942 prior to evacuation, and a huge harvest in 1943 was anticipated if authority could be obtained to proceed.

After Secretary of War Stimson had authorized sealing operations, the sealing gang of about 151 person was assembled and loaded aboard the Delarof at Funter Bay on May 6, 1943. The gang apparently included Aleuts from the Funter Bay camps, as well as Aleuts from other evacuation camps and the villages east of Unimak Island, thirty-eight Fouke Fur Company employees [the processors of the seal pelts], the Fish and Wildlife Service supervisors, and others.

The planned rate of compensation for Aleut participation in the seal harvest in 1943 was $100.00 per month for "outside natives [from villages other than St. Paul and St. George]," and payment on a piece-rate basis of approximately $.90 per sealskin for the Pribilovians. The monthly rate for non-Pribilovians was increased to $150.00 before operations began.

As of June 1, 1943, the sealing gang had been fully integrated with the military community then occupying the Pribilofs. All preparations were being made to begin the harvest on June 10th, a date which "went down on record as the largest first killing of seals in the history of [St. Paul] island since management of the fur seal herd was taken over by the U.S. government." Nine Aleuts from St. Paul who had been inducted into the Army were soon placed on special assignment to assist with the harvest. And a total of forty-eight non-Aleut enlisted men were also detached from their units to participate in the sealing operations.

On August 8, 1943, the harvest was concluded for the season. An all-time U.S. Government record for sealing was established –– a total of 95,342 skins had been taken. . . . But . . . the sealers were anxious to return to their families, who remained at Funter Bay. The Pribilof Log for September 13, 1943 includes the following entry:

Since the departure of Mr. Johnston, Superintendent, the St. Paul natives have been very dissatisfied with conditions on the island; therefore a meeting was called today and the natives asked to air their complaints. Most of the complaints came from the younger men in the gang; all, however, said they were promised in a meeting for Mr. Johnston at Funter Bay (agent was not present) that all they had to do up here was "seal," then return to Funter.

After hearing of this today, the "mutineers" were informed by the agent that unless they were willing to work, the cook would be instructed to refuse to prepare food for them; that they were the same as government employees who were expected to work every day, even at Funter Bay.

The natives were given to understand the delay in our departure could not be remedied by this office and that no instructions had been left by Mr. Johnston who laid them off. The junior foreman was instructed to prepare a roll call for the following morning and any man who did not feel he should work could stay at home; he would be given supplies to do his own cooking and the Sealing Division readjusted accordingly.

These tactics to force labor were apparently effective. The following day’s "Log" reflects the fact that "all natives were at work this morning. Some [were] very sour all day but much more work [was] accomplished than heretofore."

The U.S. Army transport vessel Northcoast anchored off Lukanin Bay, St. Paul Island, on September 27, 1943. After loading aboard the sealing gang, the sealskins taken, and the seal oil from the harvest, the Northcoast departed from the Pribilofs on October 4th for the return voyage to the intolerable conditions that had developed in their absence at Funter Bay.

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