The Aleut are people who live in harmony with their extreme environment and the turbulent ocean. They subsisted on seals, sea otters, birds, sea urchins, shellfish and a variety of plants and berries. The Aleuts lived in harmony with nature and treated the animals they took with respect. Nothing was ever thrown away, as this would demonstrate disrespect of the animal by the hunter and potentially cause bad luck in future hunts.

The Aleut culture flourished until the arrival of Russian explorers in 1741. Having noted the abundance of sea otters and fur seals (and their pelts), the Russians recognized their monetary value and promptly enslaved the Aleut to hunt these animals for their pelts. Both the sea mammals and the Aleuts were dangerously close to extinction on the Aleutians by the end of the 18th century. In 1786, the Russian explorer Gerassim Pribilof discovered the Pribilof Islands, approximately 200 miles north of the Aleutian chain. As a result of the abundant sea mammal population on the islands, the Aleuts were forcibly relocated there to continue hunting sea mammal pelts. One of the islands, St. Paul, remains the home of the largest Aleut population in the world. Although the Aleut culture and population was nearly obliterated by the Russian and American governments, traditional Aleut dances and songs were passed down from the elders and being recreated by their Aleut descendents today. All of the Aleut dances you see at the Festival of Native Arts are those where all movements were mimicked from early films taken by American and Russian missionaries in the early 20th century. Because these films are silent, the songs had to be recreated by the students.