The homeland of the Aleuts includes the Aleutian Islands, the Pribilof Islands, the Shumagin Islands, and the far western part of the Alaska Peninsula.
Aleuts constructed barabaras, partially underground houses that functioned well, as Lillie McGarvey, a 20th-century Aleut leader, wrote “keeping occupants dry from the frequent rains, warm at all times, and snugly sheltered from the high winds peculiar to the area”.
Hunting, weapon-making, boat building, and weaving are some of the traditional arts of the Aleuts. 19th-century craftsmen were famed for their ornate wooden hunting hats, which feature elaborate and colorful designs and may be trimmed with sea lion whiskers, feathers, and ivory. Aleut seamstresses created finely stitched waterproof parkas from seal gut, and some women still master the skill of weaving fine baskets from rye and beach grass.
After the arrival of missionaries in the late 18th century, many Aleuts became Christians by joining the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the earliest Christian martyrs in North America was Saint Peter the Aleut, who was killed in San Francisco, California in 1815 because he would not abandon his faith.
It has been stated that before the advent of the Russians there were 25,000 Aleuts on the archipelago, but that the barbarities of the traders and foreign diseases eventually reduced the population to one-tenth of this number. Further declines led to a 1910 Census count of 1491 Aleuts.
In 1942 Japanese forces occupied Attu and Kiska Islands in the western Aleutians, and later transported captive Attu Islanders to Hokkaido, where they were held as POWs. Hundreds more Aleuts from the western chain and the Pribilofs were evacuated by the United States government during World War II and placed in internment camps in southeast Alaska, where many died. The Aleut Restitution Act of 1988 was an attempt by Congress to compensate the survivors.
The Aleut language is related to those of the Inuit (Eskimo), and the family is called Eskimo-Aleut. It has no known wider affiliation, but supporters of the Nostratic hypothesis sometimes include it as Nostratic.