The Pribilofs were discovered in 1786 by Russian fur traders. They landed first on St. George, and named this larger island to the north St. Peter and St. Paul Island. In 1788, the Russian American Company enslaved and relocated Aleuts from Siberia, Atka and Unalaska to the Pribilofs to hunt fur seals; their descendants live on the two islands today. In 1870, the Alaska Commercial Company was awarded a 20-year sealing lease by the U.S. Government, and provided housing, food and medical care to the Aleuts in exchange for seal harvesting. In 1890, a second 20-year lease was awarded to the North American Commercial Company, however, the fur seals had been severely over-harvested and poverty ensued. The 1910 Fur Seal Act ended private leasing on the Islands and placed the community and fur seals under the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Food and clothing were scarce, social and racial segregation were practiced, and working conditions were poor.
During World War II, the Pribilof Aleuts were moved to Funter Bay on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska as part of the emergency evacuation of residents from the Bering Sea. Unlike other Aleutian residents, they were confined in an abandoned cannery and mine camp at Funter Bay. In 1979, the Aleut Islanders received $8.5 million in partial compensation for the unfair and unjust treatment they were subject to under federal administration between 1870 and 1946. In 1983, Congress passed the Fur Seal Act Amendments, which ended government control of the commercial seal harvest and the federal presence on the island. Responsibility for providing community services and management of the fur seals was left to local entities. $20 million was provided to help develop and diversify the Island economy - $12 million to St. Paul and $8 million to St. George. Commercial harvesting on St. Paul ceased in 1985. Ownership of fur seal pelts is now prohibited except for subsistence purposes. Local residents are working to develop a commercial fishing industry.
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History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development