This is a recorded presentation hosted by the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society on Zoom on Friday, February 17 at 7:30pm featuring Archaeologist, Debra Corbett.
Unangan Aleut people of the Aleutian Islands relied on birds for food, clothing, and tools. Beyond these every day needs birds, especially seabirds, were sentient beings interacting with humans in meaningful ways, potent sources of power, and imbued with spiritual meanings. Debra Corbett will briefly introduce the Unangan Aleut and their homeland, show some ways birds were used in daily life, then explore some aspects of this relationship between birds and the Unangan people. Our heroes will be a small songbird, possibly Sparrow or Rosy Finch, Whiskered Auklet and Thunderbird (Eagle or Raven).
Debra Corbett began work as an archaeologist in 1980 after graduating from the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 1983 she moved to Alaska to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act land claims. After getting an MA in archaeology at UAF in 1991 she went to work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, largely because the agency manages the Aleutian Islands as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. She eventually became the Regional Historic Preservation Officer (RHPO), responsible for cultural resources on all the wildlife refuges in Alaska. She retired in December 2013 and has been working as a heritage consultant through her company, Nanutset Heritage.
Her obsession with the Aleutian Islands began in High School when she read Hector Chevigny’s Russian America. His image of islands “greenly beautiful, with grass that grows so long it overhangs the cliffs into the surf,” electrified her. Her first Alaska job with BIA took her to the Islands. The job was to investigate historic sites claimed by the newly created Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native Corporations. BIA sent two crews to Adak Island in the Aleutians. Since she was passingly familiar with boats she was picked for one of the crews. They spent three months in a rat infested cabin, with an inflatable boat, in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. She was completely hooked.
In 1989 she went to graduate school at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, finishing a MA in 1991, and going to work for the Fish and Wildlife Service. During school her advisor gave her a phone number and said “This crazy bird biologist in Kansas wants to find an Aleutian Archaeologist. Call him!”. Her future was set. From 1991 to 2003 she worked with Dr. Douglas Causey, the aforementioned biologist, and Dr. Christine Lefevre. Along the way the crew experienced the best and the worst the Aleutians have to offer, shipwreck, injury, laughter, frustration, fear, transcendent joy, and unbelievable archaeology—all shared with amazing friends and a host of students and colleagues.