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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

An Analysis of Place, History, and Globalization in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor

Dr. Jennifer Sepez and colleagues published an article in the journal Polar Geography entitled "Unalaska, Alaska: memory and denial in the globalization of the Aleutian landscape." The article explores the history and globalization of the landscape of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. The article grew from fieldwork conducted in Unalaska in 2002 by Dr. Sepez and her presentation at a session on reading history in the landscape at the American Anthropological Association meetings. The article included contributions, also based on fieldwork in the Aleutians, from coauthors Christina Package (Oregon State University—formerly with the AFSC), Patrica Malcolm (Western Washington University), and Amanda Poole (University of Washington—formerly with the AFSC).

The Aleutian landscape is shaped by its history of foreign and domestic exploitation, wartime occupation and displacement, economic globalization, and the historical narratives and identities that structure the relationship of past and present through place. In the article, the history of the area is characterized by successive waves of occupation and resource extraction by the geopolitical powers of Asia and North America, which began with Russian colonization. Of particular focus is the legacy of World War II, characterized as an array of both presences and absences. Obvious to most all who visit the Aleutians is the presence of World War II debris from Japanese attacks in 1942. Less obvious are the absences of Aleut villages and the community social structures that bound them together.

The article compiles information on the 10 Aleut villages that were forcibly evacuated by the U.S. Government, resulting in years of brutal internment of the entire indigenous Aleut population. Only six of these villages (four in the Aleutians and two in the Pribilofs) were permitted resettlement after the war. Since that time, the Port of Dutch Harbor has grown to become the Nation's busiest commercial fishing port, ironically due to the demand of the Japanese market for fishery products and substantial capital investment by Japanese companies. The article includes a description of the current fishing industry based in Dutch Harbor, including its global markets and labor force. Applying post-colonial theory to Unalaska's history suggests that historical power asserted by conquest and territorial acquisition has been succeeded by the dynamics of economic globalization in this American periphery. Residents draw on the legacy of history and globalization to shape and contest identity and power in the modern landscape.

By Jennifer Sepez

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