“It Was Not a Whale, but a Strange Monster”

Qikertarmiut Storytelling and Seasonal Relations through Early Russian Invasions

Colton Brandau


In the mid-18th century, Qikertarmiut spotted “a giant whale” offshore Qikertaq [Kodiak Island]. Upon closer examination, however, they realized this creature held a Russian fur expedition. Over the next few months, Russians and Qikertarmiut fought, survived, and traded, which Elder Arsenti Aminak recounted to Henrik Holmberg in 1851. His testimony detailed important events from these first interactions but also involved knowledges concerning Qikertarmiut seasonal relations and storytelling practices. The kiak [summer] season influenced Qikertarmiut to view the arriving Russians through oceanic perspectives. In uksuaq [autumn], violence, either to remove intruders from beaches or to facilitate easier sea-mammal-fur extractions, shaped relations. During uksuq [winter], Russian ignorance of surviving on Qikertaq led to deaths and thefts from Qikertarmiut villages. By ugnerkaq [spring], Qikertarmiut engaged in trade with the Russians before the latter departed the island. Aminak’s remembrances displayed a relational Qikertarmiut social world not often discussed, which exceeded and persisted through Russian colonialism.

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