Aleut (əlōtˈ, ălˈēōtˌ) [key], native inhabitant of the Aleutian Islands and W Alaska. Like the Eskimo, the Aleuts are racially similar to Siberian peoples. Their language is a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family. When they were first noted by Vitus Jonassen Bering in 1741, their estimated population was between 20,000 and 25,000. Because of their skill in hunting sea mammals, the Aleuts were exploited by Russian fur traders throughout the coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska, sometimes as far south as California. The ruthless policies of the traders and conflict with the fierce mainland natives reduced their population by the end of the 18th cent. to one tenth its former size. However, by 1990 their numbers had increased to almost 24,000 in the United States. They continue to live in relative isolation; most are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.
See V. I. Jochelson, The History, Ethnology and Anthropology of the Aleut (1933, repr. 1966); R. Ackerman, Ethnohistory in Southwestern Alaska and the Southern Yukon (1970); W. S. Laughlin, Aleuts (1981).