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St. Paul Island community to celebrate 100 years of fur seal harvests

  • Author: James Mason
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published July 25, 2011

In the first week of August St. Paul will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911. The treaty signed by the United States, Great Britain, Japan and Russia was the first international agreement to address the issue of wildlife preservation. The three days of celebration will include an old-fashioned sealers' breakfast, the dedication of a sealing monument, an Aleut Corp. shareholders meeting and a number of other events.

"Those three days we selected are also the last three days we can legally take fur seal," said Aquilina D. Lestenkof of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island. She is leading the planning of the three-day celebration. Island residents will do their sealing in the morning and then join in the activities. The subsistence harvest actually begins June 24, but most people prefer to do their sealing and put the meat up on the very last days, according to Lestenkof.

The return of two human skulls taken from the Pribilof Islands soon after the purchase of Alaska will also be noted in a "putting to rest, the homecoming of the remains." The skulls have been at the Smithsonian Institution.

"We don't have a whole lot to go on as to where they were taken from," said Lestenkof. A Dr. Minor, who was on the first American military mission to Alaska, donated the skulls to the museum.

On Aug. 3, there will be a Quganaasax, a potluck.

Aug. 4 activities will include a tribute to the Coast Guard and to all military who served the region.

"That day was selected to have the core of the activities for this celebration," said Lestenkof. "The day will start with the subsistence sealing. After the sealers' breakfast we'll walk down to the site of a sealing monument and honor the first seal treaty of 1911. All the people will walk together through the town and walk to this location, not yet selected, and then have a little ceremony for the monument. Then to the ball field, which was built on May 29, 1911, and they'll honor the military."

A number of people from St. Paul served in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II.

Then the people will walk to the small boat harbor, which will be dedicated, and that will be followed by a barbecue. A softball game will wind up the day's events.

Aug. 5 is the final day and less is scheduled for the afternoon, as it is the final day of the subsistence seal harvest and people will be busy with that. But there will be a "Homer Gone" parade, a tradition during the times of commercial sealing.

"Everybody was so happy when Homer, the ship, came in and collected all the sealskins," said Lestenkof. "And when the Homer left the hard labor was over. 'Homer Gone!' So the parade is called the 'Homer Gone' parade."

The parade would pass the plant where the fur seal pelts were being processed and the plant workers would bring up big hoses and hose down the parade-goers. In the evening there will be a community gathering with musicians.

This story is posted with permission from Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes six weekly community newspapers, a statewide shopper, a statewide magazine and slate of special publications that supplement its products year-round.

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