The Russian-America Company had been fur trading in Alaska for some 83 years before Hayward Hutchinson, a Civil War business promoter, travelled to Sitka in 1867 to bid on the company’s remaining assets.

Native History: U.S. Buys Alaska for Two Cents an Acre From Russia

Christina Rose

This Date in Native History: On October 18, 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for two cents an acre, or $7.2 million in gold, which amounts to about $16.5 billion in 2007 currency according to an Economix blog.

Alaska’s history began thousands of years ago with the Natives who lived according to the provisions and possibilities of nature. Food was abundant and snow was preferable to mud for travel. But with the arrival of the Russian fur traders in the early 1700s, came fur rush and like the miners of the gold rush, the scourge of “fugitive serfs, ex convicts, debtors” arrived from Russia to Alaska and treated the Natives in an abusive, torturous manner, according to an Alaska History and Cultural Studies course offered by the Alaska Humanities Forum.

The enormous state of Alaska is about one-fifth the size of the United States, but it was the coastal areas that saw the greatest impact from the intruders. In 1778, British navigator Captain James Cook noted that the Russians had intermarried and taken on the culture of the Natives. Yet in other areas, violence, enslavement, and hostilities continued.

Richard Dauenhauer, a retired Alaskan language and culture professor from the University of Alaska, expressed concern that too much focus is placed on the hostilities and not enough credit is given for the working relationships that also existed. “Natives had the option of being a citizen of Russia or not. Native people mapped the Marshall Islands, charted the coast. One Alaska Native man was a governor in Siberia. A lot of people at that time had Russian fathers and Native mothers. This created the Creole class, which was important in the middle management of the colony.”

Native Alaskans also formed partnerships with Russian companies, Dauenhauer said, adding that many Natives held positions as teachers and officers and attended prestigious military schools. He asked, “Where did you see that kind of power among Natives anywhere else in the U.S. at that time?”

Approximately 45 percent of the people labeled Russians were Native peoples from Siberia, and the Alaska Native languages and cultures were never threatened; bilingualism was the norm, Dauenhauer said. “The Natives weren’t competing with the Russians. The Creole people, Russian-Natives, would have been considered Native by BIA standards even though they had Russian names. The problem is that people stereotype and focus on the abuse,” Dauenhauer wrote in an email. “Many Aleuts teamed up with the Siberians in mutually beneficial relationships.”

In 1794, Russian missionaries arrived and established schools that designed writing systems for Native languages and translated scripture, Dauenhauer said. The treaties made during the Russian/American period from 1732 to 1837 focused almost solely on the fur trade. Gold mining began in the 1880s and 1890s, after the U.S. purchased Alaska, and continues today. Alaska still produces more gold than any other state, except Nevada.

For more than a century, Russia, and ultimately the United States, England, Spain and others took advantage of Alaska’s fur trade until the animal resources became severely depleted. With so many outside parties coming into Alaska, Dauenhauer said Russia’s decision to sell was based on the fact that it was almost impossible to defend the entire coastline.

Once America took ownership of Alaska, Native Alaskans lost much of their power. Formerly assured of their ability to maintain their own cultures, the U.S. began the assimilation process including boarding schools and the destruction of language and culture. “The Russian system had not been based on race,” Dauenhauer said.  “The American system was based on treaties that were not followed through by Americans, and for first time American people came to stay.”

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Herb Davis's picture
Herb Davis
Submitted by Herb Davis on
The sale by Russia is B.S.....they didn't own it the native inhabitants are the rightful owners. If you buy stolen property it isn't belongs to the original owners and not the folks that drew up a bogus deed!

Sheila Fredrickson's picture
Sheila Fredrickson
Submitted by Sheila Fredrickson on
My mother and her sisters and brother were taken from the Island when my grandfather past and put them in boarding schools. My grandmother was still alive. My grandmother was Aleut Russian, my grandfather swede. My aunts and uncles lived from the land and waters. My mother grew up not knowing her mother and could not find her. You just do not go missing from a Island with out any one knowing. Because the missionaries came and took them when my grandfather died, I to do not know of Mary Casper/ Fredrickson. My grandmother. The island of aleution was not a easy life. But we as a people did not bother ant one. The war just about took out our people, because that is what the government wanted. The government is trying to take the land that was given us. I hold on to my native culture and am proud. It hurts to know that because of the government I never knew my grandmother or father, I heard from my aunts and uncle of things that they only remember as children, their pain, hard ship, lose of family, what they went through in the missions, how they were treated. Alaska is big and great, enough room for everyone. But the government it all, Why. We are the history of Alaska. We do not take what is not ours, we respect the water, land, sky, you destroy it. We are hanging on buy a thread as a people, what is left of us. Please don't take anymore. It was hard and still is to this day, knowing my mother longed to know her mother and while passing of cancer my mother had memories and tell me of the life in the boarding schools. No one left except cousins, and they are dying because they are losing their soul living from the sea and land being taken.

Rolling thunder's picture
Rolling thunder
Submitted by Rolling thunder on
Creole? Say that in south-east alaska and they would go what? And by the way sealaska corp. is cutting down old growth timber to line their pockets. What happened to Native American respect to the earth? I will tell you money! Corp. America sucks! Rt.

Rolling thunder's picture
Rolling thunder
Submitted by Rolling thunder on
Off course u will not print the truth because you will lose your jobs. Rt.

Rolling thunder's picture
Rolling thunder
Submitted by Rolling thunder on
Loss of power? Here is my life in the 5th grade in ketchikan at main school, Mrs. Obrion did not like natives integrated in the school system and she picked me out and flunked me out of 5th grade,and it really bothered me. Did not figure that out till my early 20's but did not stop as I got a job as a Bus driver in metro-transit in seattle and retired after 31 years. My Op. Is Forget the past and move on. It's your life but lots of peeps cannot get past That. Not my problem. You are in charge of this short life you have. Rt. P P

carnivorous duck's picture
carnivorous duck
Submitted by carnivorous duck on
the US bought the trading rights , not the land . that is why it was called Sewards Folly