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We begin with a memory: the day the Aleuts came to the island.
The narrator is in a little harbor called Coral Cove with her brother. She is twelve years old, and he is six. They're gathering roots to eat. (Yum.)
In the distance, she sees what could be a shell, or a "gull with folded wings" (1.1). She soon realizes that the shape is in fact a ship with red sails. This can't be good.
The narrator's brother, Ramo, sees the spot too. He compares it to a cloud on a stone. Or even a whale. The narrator encourages her brother to just keep digging the roots.
Ramo decides that it is a canoe: one with red sails. The narrator knows that it's not a canoe, but a big old ship.
Ramo runs off, probably to spread the word about this approaching ship, but the narrator keeps digging – roots are needed in the village.
News of the ship spreads to the village of Ghalas-at and people are gathering at the shore. Our narrator makes her way down to the sea cliffs and hides in the toyon bushes so she can see the landing of the men on the beach.
The men that land on the beach are blonde-haired and Russian. The Chief of her people, the narrator's father, greets the men using his real name: Chief Chowig.
The narrator wonders why her father gave his secret name to these Russian men. We learn that on the island people have two names: a public name and a secret, private name that is thought to have magic in it. If you tell too many people your secret name it "loses its magic" (1.33).
The narrator's public name, we learn, is Won-a-pa-lei, or, "The Girl with the Long Black Hair" (1.33). Her secret name is Karana.
The leader of the Russians introduces himself as Captain Orlov. He has come with forty men to hunt otter and camp on the island. Chief Chowig is a quiet man and says nothing.
Captain Orlov mentions another visit by his people to the island that didn't go very well. A silly man named Captain Mitriff led the trip. Orlov says that this time will be different since his men will be doing all of the hunting. He offers one-third of the hunt to the people of the island.
The Chief says that the parts must be equal. The Russian captain doesn't wish to discuss the matter, but the Chief insists.
The two men negotiate: the Russian argues that the sea doesn't belong to the natives, so why share equally? The Chief claims that the sea that touches the island belongs to the people who live there. Snap.
The Russian captain finally agrees to equal parts.
The narrator makes a sound from her hiding place in the toyon bushes and runs off.