Makushin Bay: Its Resources and People

Overview and Teaching Strategies

Overview and Teaching Strategies

Enduring Understandings

Students examine resources that relate to human settlement in Makushin Bay - Uguudax- on Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain of Alaska, and predict where settlement sites would have been located, based on the availability of food and other resources.  They compare their predictions with the actual locations of sites.  They extend the examination to an analysis of their own community’s location and available resources.

  • People choose to live in places that provide them with their needs.
  • People choose which resources are the most important to them based on both basic needs and cultural practices. 

Time required

1 to 2 hours

Classroom resources

In addition to the maps and images provided here, you will need:

  • Wall map of Alaska

Go to these links for additional information:

Learning Objectives

  • Students will discover what food (and other) resources the ancient Unangax people (Aleuts) depended on.
  • Students will decide which resources they think were the most important to the ancient Unangax people.
  • Students will learn what resources were important to the founders of their village, town, or city.
  • Students will compare their community’s choice of resources with the choices that the ancient Unangax people made


Teaching Strategies

  • Have students examine the resources that are part of this Learning Center.
  • Have students visit the links provided in this Learning Center that provide additional information on Makushin Bay and the Unangax people.
  • Have students complete the Makushin Bay Worksheet (download it by clicking here). Compare students' responses.


There are four permanent village sites marked on the pictorial map of Makushin Bay: the one located on the westernmost point in the map is named Iiqum Angan (which means “beside the seaweed/gravel beach”). Look at the list of factors that were important in the Unangax choice of village site (download the list by clicking here).  Mark those that deal directly with the food quest. How important was food in the decision of where to locate a community?

  • Ask students: Which factor do you think was the most important to the Unangax people in choosing a year-round village site?  Which was the least? 
  • Using the "Factors in Locating a Village in Precontact Days" worksheet that you have downloaded, have students rate each factor, with #1 representing the most important factor and #11 the least important factor.


  • After all students have completed the worksheet, refer to the Ratings by Unangax people (download it by clicking here) and compare students’ answers with the responses the precontact Unangas would give.
  • Additional topics for discussion and consideration or to use as writing prompts:
    • Think about your own community.  What resources surround it?  How do you take advantage of the local resources? 
    • After reading the historic resources quoted provided as part of this Learning Center, speculate about the authors’ backgrounds and opinions based on their descriptions.  Do they seem biased or unbiased?  Based on what evidence?
    • Make a list of the foods you ate and the beverages you drank over the last 48 hours.  Separate the list into two groups: those foods that were grown and processed locally (within 100 miles) and those that were imported to your community from more than 100 miles away.  What does this list say about your community’s location as a source of food?
    • Is your community location based on the availability of food resources?  If not, what is the basis of the location of your community?
    • Would the people of Makushin Bay have chosen your location as a year-round village site?  As a seasonal settlement?  Why or why not?

Location and characteristics

Location and characteristics


This section describes this beautiful bay on Unalaska Island, and the Unangax people who lived there for thousands of years.

Background Information

This map shows Makushin Bay on Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain. The bay was historically the home of several permanent (winter) villages and a number of seasonal (summer) camp sites of the Unangax people. Note the many resources that were available in and near the bay.

The village of Makushin was abandoned during World War II when the U.S. Government required that the Unangax people move away from the islands, which were under attack from the Japanese, to Southeastern Alaska.


Alaska is the home of many indigenous groups beyond the Unangax (also called "Aleut", as in the map on the right). In fact, there are five cultural groups that, all-told, speak twenty different languages. The Aleutian Islands, the chain that extends off the southwestern coast of the state, was traditionally the home of people who made their living from the resources of the sea. With very few land animals available, but an incredibly rich combination of sea mammals, fish, shellfish, and birds, the people thrived and built a complex and rich culture.

For more information about the Unangax people (called by the Russians "Aleuts") who made the Aleutian Islands their home, visit



Makushin Bay is an area of both shallow, intertidal zones and deep water where sea mammals and halibut thrive. There are also salmon streams and plenty of rocks where sea birds nest and hatch their eggs.


Long ago, the Unangax people lived in large, warm houses that were made from the most common resources -- grass and sod. Their design was ingenious in the windy Aleutian Islands. Because they were built halfway into the ground with the entrance in the roof, they offered no way for the winds to penetrate the house.

Resources from the intertidal, fresh water stream, and shore

Resources from the intertidal, fresh water stream, and shore

This section depicts some of the most important resources available to the people of Makushin Bay, including intertidal shellfish, fish that spawned close to shore or in freshwater streams, and birds that built their nests along the rocky coastline.





Sea urchins -- small echinoderms with spiny outer shells -- provide a delicious meal when they're turned upside down and their eggs are extracted.  Eaten raw, they provide excellent nutrition, and can be harvested any time of year in the Aleutians.

Closeup of blue mussels">Mussels



Mussels, like sea urchins, are almost always available on the rocky shores of the Aleutian Islands.  They have formed an important part of the Unangax diary for thousands of years, as shown by ancient shell middens, or trash heaps.



This chiton, called a "bidarki" in the Aleutians (named after the Russian word for the iqyax or kayak), has delicious meat on its underside.  A quick boil makes for a good meal.  Like other intertidal resources, the bidarkis could be harvested year-round, and by elders as well as mothers and small children.



One of the most important resources of Makushin Bay -- available in the summer when they return to fresh water to spawn -- are salmon.



Herring are easily caught in nets when they school near the shore to spawn, and have always formed a part of the Unangax diet.



Gulls are everywhere in the Aleutian Islands, and their eggs provided an excellent food source.



Puffins build their nests on rocky outcrops, but this did not stop agile Unangax boys from climbing up or being lowered down on ropes to harvest the eggs.





Photo by Mike Whaley

Resources requiring the iqyax

Resources requiring the iqyax

This section depicts the most important invention of the ancient Unangan (plural of Unangax): the iqyax, or kayak. It was only thanks to the iqyax that sea mammals could be hunted.

The Unangax iqyax (kayak) was a marvel of engineering, and allowed the people to travel hundreds of miles in the open water.  This is the invention that made life in the islands possible, for without it, the abundant sea resources would not have been available to the Unangax people.



The iqyax shown here has two holes or hatches. Single-hatch iqyan were more commonly used for hunting before the Russians came.


This is the detail of the bow of the iqyax.  The split design allows the vessel to plow through the water while the horizontal piece provides stability in ocean waters. This photo shows the sea lion skin cover, sewn together with a waterproof stitch.


The halibut is the master of disguise -- but the Unangax people have known when they migrate to shallow water to breed, and perfected methods for fishing for them from their iqyan.  Halibut meat is firm, white, and delicious.

The Russians' primary interest during the first 100 years of their occupation of Alaska was the sea otter.  The fur is rich and warm, and was in high demand among the nobility of both Russia and China.  

By the early 1900s, the sea otter populations had all but died out and an international ban on hunting them was enforced. In recent years they have rebounded and the animals are numerous in Alaska waters.




Kelp can be eaten if prepared properly, but it can also be used as a line.  Perhaps most important for the Unangax people during Russian times, kelp beds are where sea otters gather.

The Unangax people had a very special way of hunting whales (usually baleen whales, occasionally toothed whales like the orca in the picture): They used a poison brewed from the monkshood plant, harpooned the whale in a location where they knew the tides and wind would blow the whale ashore, and waited for it to die and drift onto the shore. Then they butchered it and distributed the meat.


Among the most important sea mammals used for food, clothing, and skins, was the seal.  Unangax boys began going out with their fathers and uncles before puberty to learn how to hunt the animals, using long harpoons with detachable barbs.

Steller sea lions were a challenge to hunt, because they are large and travel in groups, and can be ferocious. Yet the Unangax people mastered the art of hunting sea lions from their skin-covered iqyan (plural of iqyax) thousands of years ago.

Makushin Bay in the 19th Century

Makushin Bay in the 19th Century

In this section, visitors to Makushin Bay in the 19th Century describe it. Each visitor came from another part of the country or world, and brought his own experiences, perspectives, and, perhaps, prejudices with him.

Russian Orthodox priest Father Ivan Veniaminov (later glorified as St. Innocent) was stationed in Unalaska in the 1830s, during the time that Russia claimed Alaska and named it "Russian America."  The Russians forced the Unangax people to hunt for them.

Father Veniaminov explained in 1834,

Makushin settlement lies on the north approach to Makushin Bay, on a sandy, hillocky spit.  The structures here are a yurt, a barabara [ula], a shed, and a steam-bath belonging to the [Russian-American] Company, which has its baidarshchik [leader of a group of hunters] here, and six yurts and the same number of barabaras belonging to the Aleuts [Unangas].  Besides the baidarshchik, 35 souls, 15 male and 20 of the female sex, reside here. . . .

In ancient times there were five [subordinate] settlements near this village, but except for Starichkovskoe, which existed up to 1805, [all were abandoned at an unspecified time] . . . 

Father Veniaminov worked with Unangax people to learn and produce a writing system for the Unangax language. One of the first books published, used by the people of Makushin Village, was the catechism.

Father Veniaminov went on to say,

The main resource of this village is seasonal fish, which are put up in great quantities [not only for local consumption] but also for the main settlement [Unalaska].  In addition, there are cod and an abundance of [edible] roots.  [Each year] 80 to 150 foxes of different varieties are taken around the village.

From Veniaminov, Ivan, Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District.  Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press.  1984, pp. 93-94.

Ivan Petroff, a census taker, visited Unalaska Island in 1878 and wrote what he saw in Makushin.  His private diary says this about the settlement:

August 10 – Woke up very stiff and sore and made arrangements to return to the head of the bay in bidarkas [kayaks].  Makushin is a very poor village of 50 inhabitants with a chapel, but no store.  Not a fish was to be had in the place and I was told that a new volcano had broken out on Umnak Island and the fall of hot ashes and lava into the sea had driven all the fish from the vicinity. 

Quotation from Hinckley, Theodore C. and Caryl, say in "Ivan Petroff's Journey of a Trip to Alaska in 1878." Journal of the West, Vol. V, No. 1, January 1966, pp. 26-27.

Petroff further reported,

The people of Makushin are mere auxiliaries of the inhabitants of Oonalashka [Unalaska] Village, and furnish a contingent every year for the regular sea-otter hunting party that leaves Iliuliuk (Iluula) for Sannakh (Sanaga).  They have an opportunity better than that enjoyed by any other settlement in their country to capture the young fur-seals in their passage through the straits of Umnak in the fall, securing between 1000 and 1300 of these animals every year.  Their fishing grounds were so disturbed in 1878 by the volcanic eruption on Umnak Island that they were compelled to move their old village to the present site, and here they will undoubtedly remain.

Today . . . they trap foxes on the flanks of this great mountain which rears its fuming head high above them 5000 or 6000 feet, and they secure a small, but to them very precious, supply of driftwood from the sea.

From Petroff, Ivan. Population and Resources of Alaska.  Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1880, pp. 19-20.

Courtesy of New Bedford Whaling Museum">Unalaska


In 1891, Z.L. Tanner, charged with describing the fishing situation in Alaska, reported,

The village of Makushin is composed of a small frame church painted white, a frame store belonging to the Alaska Commercial Company, and a dozen barabaras, or native earth huts, which were nearly buried beneath rank grass.

From Tanner, Z.L., Report Upon the Investigation of the US Fish Commission Steamer Albatross from July 1, 1889 to June 30, 1891.  Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1891, p. 244.

The image on the right is of the town of Unalaska, north of Makushin Bay but on the same island.



  • Worksheet responses
  • Factors in Locating a Village worksheet
  • In-class participation in discussion
  • (Optional) Writing assignments can be assessed according to the Six-Trait Writing System
  • (Optional) Assess engagement and reasoning level in the enrichment activities (topics for further exploration)

Academic Standards

Academic Standards


National Geography Standards addressed in the material

  • Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.
  • Standard 3: How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.
  • Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places.
  • Standard 9: The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.
  • Standard 12: The process, patterns, and functions of human settlement.
  • Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems.
  • Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.
  • Standard 17: How to apply geography to interpret the past.
  • Standard 18: To apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.

Standards in History for Grades K-4

  • Standard 6: Regional folklore and cultural contributions that helped to form our national heritage

NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts

  • Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Standard 7: Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • Standard 8: Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.