aleuthunters

Island of the Blue Dolphins
By Scott O’Dell
Interest Level: 6-8
Grade Level Equivalent: 5.5
Age: 11-13
Genre: Adventure, Classics

Island of the Blue Dophins is based on a true story of a Native girl named Karana who was abandoned on one of the Channel Islands off of southern California. The story begins when a Russian ship enters the bay where her village lies. In it, is a Russian Captain, Orlov, and his crew of Aleuts. The Russians bargain for the right to hunt the otters, at which the Aleuts excel. Captain Orlov tries to leave with the otter pelts but without paying the chief their agreed sum. Captain Orlov “spoke to his Aleuts.” (p. 22) Karana, his daughter, does not know who struck who first, but her father ends up on the ground with blood on his face. The others get involved in the fight with Captain Orlov returning to the boat to get more Aleuts to fight. The Chief is killed. “Looking at his body, I knew that he should not have given Captain Orlov his secret name…this had so weakened him that he had not lived through the fight with the Aleuts and the dishonest Russian.” (p. 24)

Such is the account of the mendacious Captain Orlov. Yet, most reviewers blame the Aleuts for the violence and betrayal of the Native islanders in this book. I find this both inconsistent to the book and historically inaccurate. This review is from Shmoop.com and is typical of the ignorance of Aleut history and culture by those reviewing the book.

“Captain Orlov is the leader of the Russian hunters who come to the Island of the Blue Dolphins to hunt for otters. He’s a shifty guy who promises that he has come in peace, but in the end, he betrays Chief Chowig. He represents the violent and treacherous aspects ways of the Aleutian culture.” (http://www.shmoop.com/island-blue-dolphins/orlov-aleuts.html)

First, Captain Orlov is Russian, not Aleut. Next, in 1853, when this book was based, Aleuts were slaves of the Russians. The Russians were ruthless in enforcing their way on the Aleut people. In one case, when the Aleuts disputed the way they were being treated, the Russians slaughtered two entire villages. They were also known to line the Aleuts up to see how many people one bullet would pierce. This next excerpt is taken from Southwest Alaska 1743-1867 Era of Russian Violence Alaska’s Past – Regional Perspectives:

”Few Russians who could have gone wished to go to the remote and dangerous fur trading outposts on the eastern frontier of their country. As a result, fur trading companies used the Aleuts as slaves or serfs. At first, all of the men in each Aleut village were forced to hunt for the Russians. Then, because when all of the men were away and no one hunted for food, starvation resulted. Later, because of this, only half of the men in each village were forced to hunt furs in any one year. Aleuts were taken away from their islands to hunt in other parts of Alaska and as far south as California. They were also occasionally “rented” to other Euroamerican fur seekers.” (http://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=94) The most famous Aleut brought down from Alaska to hunt and then murdered for his Russian Orthodox faith is St. Peter the Aleut. (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Peter_the_Aleut)

We can conclude, by both the actual passage written by Scott O’Dell, and by history, that the betrayal was firmly on Captain Orlov’s shoulders. The Aleuts were not involved in the negotiations for the otter pelts. The Aleuts had no choice but to obey the Captain when he told them to take the pelts to the boat and fight the islanders. To disobey would mean their own deaths and, by lack of payment to their families, their families’ death by starvation as well.

islandbluedolphin

O’Dell, S. (1960). Island of the Blue Dolphins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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