The Lost Villages

a collage of three images, each featuring people walking along foggy coastlines and grassy fields.
Not all displaced Unangax̂ people were able to return home after World War II. The Lost Villages Project attempted to reconnect these people and their descendants with their original villages.

NPS Photo

waves break into white foam on a coastal beach with an abandoned dock and mountains in the background.
Attu Island was one of the locations which the government did not return villagers to.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Photo

Lost Villages, Lost Knowledge, Lost People

The impacts of World War II on the Unangax̂, Indigenous residents of the Aleutian Islands, were extreme and long-lasting. Although the Unangax̂ endured countless hardships during the war, whether kept as a prisoner in Japan or forced to evacuate to a relocation camp in Southeast Alaska, returning to the Aleutian Islands signaled the end of a years-long struggle for some, but not all, Unangax̂.

The United States government assumed responsibility for returning the Unangax̂ to the Aleutian Islands after World War II; however, the government deemed some of the more remote and smaller villages too costly to travel to. As a result, the residents of those villages were directed to relocate to more populous areas in the Aleutians, such as the city of Unalaska, where the Aleutian Islands WWII National Historic Area stands today.

“Everybody was supposed to go back, you know? It was sad, but they didn’t. The government told them to move somewhere else. They weren’t going to spend any money on it.” - George Gordaoff, former resident of Kashega1


The villages of Biorka, Kashega, Makushin, and Attu were never permanently resettled after the war. In this disservice to the Unangax̂, American citizens, the government cut people off from their traditional homelands. Many of these “lost villages” were home to Unangax̂ people for many generations. Over the course of this time, place-based Traditional Knowledge was passed down and shared among younger generations.

“I was born there in 1925. About 40 or 50 people lived there. I was a little boy, so I was happy all the time. In Makushin, everyday people go out and do something. All the people working to get some food for us. Seal hunting, bottom fishing. That’s all we do there.” - Nicholai Galaktionoff, former resident of Kashega2

While residents of the lost villages retained their Traditional Knowledge, they could no longer practice their culture at home. Forced to relocate yet again, many of these individuals had to find their place in new communities and an unfamiliar environment. Although they were now living in other Unangax villages, individuals from these lost communities still retained their village identities and identified themselves as being from Attu, Kashega, Biorka, or Makushin – not from wherever they resided post-war. After the heartbreaking losses they had already suffered at the hands of the government during World War II, these Unangax̂ now had to adjust to living in new places. Residents of the host communities, especially Akutan and Atka, also struggled to accommodate the returning survivors of the lost villages. Even those Unangax̂ who returned to their home communities found their houses and churches damaged or destroyed, mainly by the U.S. military.
an old man wearing a hood over a red baseball cap looks out to the ocean with mountains in the distance.
Nicholai Lekanoff was one of the Unangax̂ elders who provided invaluable information to make the Lost Villages trips possible.

NPS Photo

Returning Home: The Lost Villages Project

In 2004, the National Park Service began to compile oral histories of Unangax̂ WWII experiences. Over the course of collecting oral histories, descendants of the lost villages suggested that it would be a valuable experience to return to their ancestral villages. And thus began the Lost Villages Project: a cooperative effort to make return trips to lost villages for survivors and descendants. The project included a 2009 trip to Makushin, 2010 trips to Biorka and Kashega, and a 2017 trip to the extremely remote island of Attu.

Survivors of the lost villages greatly appreciated the return to their homes; for some, it was the first trip back in decades. Descendants of the communities had an opportunity to connect to a place they had never known. Some individuals even found familial connections to other descendants on the same trip, illuminating the resilience of these communities despite the loss of their villages.

“When I arrived at Kashega, it seemed like there was a calming. I sensed that there were some ancestors there. I could feel that they were there." - Carlene Arnold, descendant1

The project was a great success due to the efforts of many different groups and people: the National Park Service provided trip organization and funding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided transportation, the local radio station KUCB documented the trips, and Unangax̂ elders shared invaluable knowledge that made these trips possible.

Learn More About the Lost Villages Project

The Lost Villages Project was a special occasion that was thoroughly documented. For more information on the lost villages themselves as well as the return trips, consider reading Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians or watching Tanadgusim Adan Chiilulix: A Journey Home, a 26-minute documentary produced by KUCB, the local radio station in Unalaska.
  • people in orange rain slickers stand beside a white cross in a grassy field.
    Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians

    Curious to know more about the Lost Villages? Read this publication from the National Park Service and contact us to request a hard copy.

  • a shallow coastal bay opens up into a verdant mountain range.

    In this video, watch Nikolai Lekanoff share his story of forced removal from his home, Makushin, during WWII.

  • two people walk through a grassy field with old lumber and the ocean in the distance.
    Tanadgusim Adan Chiilulix

    Tanadgusim Adan Chiilulix: A Journey Home is a documentary about the Lost Villages produced by KUCB, the local radio station in Unalaska.


Last updated: June 27, 2024

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Unalaska, AK 99692



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