2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Peoples

Distribution of Inuit language variants across the Arctic.
Distribution of Inuit language variants across the Arctic.
An Eskimo family
An Eskimo family

Eskimos, or Esquimaux, are terms used to refer to people who inhabit the circumpolar region, excluding Scandinavia and most of Russia, but including the easternmost portions of Siberia. There are two main groups of Eskimos: the Inuit in northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and the Yupik of western Alaska and the Russian Far East.

The Eskimos are related to the Aleuts and the Alutiiq from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska as well as the Sug'piak from the Kodiak Islands and as far as the Prince William Sound in southcentral Alaska.

Eastern Eskimo people (Inuit) speak Inuktitut, and western Alaskan Eskimo communities (Yup'ik) speak Yup'ik. There is a dialect continuum between the two, and the westernmost dialects of Inuktitut could be viewed as forms of Yup'ik. Kinship culture also differs between east and west, as eastern Inuit lived with cousins of both parents, but western Inuit lived in paternal kinship groups. The Sireniki language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of Eskimo, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.

Use of the term Eskimo

The term Eskimo can include the Alutiiq, Inupiat, Sug'piak, and Yup'ik Eskimo populations of Alaska, and the Yupik population of Eastern Russia. The speakers of the Yupik languages self-identify as Eskimo , but the majority of the Native population in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland prefer to be called "Inuit", or to a smaller extent Inuvialuit, and most find the term Eskimo highly offensive.

The term "Eskimos" is now used by some to refer to rugged and brave individuals who are able to deal with cold and ice even if they are not natives of the far North. For example, the Cambridge Eskimos, established in the 1930s and still active, are an ice hockey team based at the University of Cambridge in Britain, as well as the Abitibi Eskimos hockey team, based out of Iroquois Falls, Ontario, Canada. In somewhat the same vein, the Canadian Football League's Edmonton team is called the Eskimos

Origin of the term Eskimo

Some Algonquian languages call Eskimos by names that mean "eaters of raw meat" or something that sounds similar. The Plains Ojibwe, for example, use the word êškipot ("one who eats raw," from ašk-, "raw," and -po-, "to eat") to refer to Eskimos. It is entirely possible that the Ojibwe have adopted words resembling "Eskimo" by borrowing them from French, and the French word merely sounds like Ojibwe words that can be interpreted as "eaters of raw meat".

But in the period of the earliest attested French use of the word, the Plains Ojibwe were not in contact with Europeans, nor did they have very much direct contact with the Inuit in pre-colonial times.

The Innu-aimun (Montagnais) language, a dialect of Cree which was known to French traders at the time of the earliest attestation of esquimaux, does not have vocabulary fitting this etymological analysis. Furthermore, since Cree people also traditionally consumed raw meat, a pejorative significance based on this etymology seems unlikely. A variety of competing etymologies have been proposed over the years, but the most likely source is the Montagnais word meaning "snowshoe-netter". Since Montagnais speakers refer to the neighbouring Mi'kmaq people using words that sound very much like eskimo, many researchers have concluded that this is the more likely origin of the word.

The anthropologist Thomas Huxley in On the Methods and Results of Ethnology (1865) defined the "Esquimaux race" to be the indigenous peoples in the Arctic region of northern Canada and Alaska. He described them to "certainly present a new stock" (different from the other indigenous peoples of North America). He described them to have straight black hair, dull skin complexion, short and squat, with high cheek bones and long skulls.


The Inuit inhabit the Arctic coasts of Siberia, Alaska, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador, and Greenland. Until fairly recent times, there has been a remarkable homogeneity in the culture throughout this area, which traditionally relied on fish, sea mammals, and land animals for food, heat, light, clothing, tools, and shelter.

Canada's Inuit

Canadian Inuit live primarily in Nunavut (a territory in Canada), Nunavik (the northern part of Quebec) and in Nunatsiavut (the Inuit settlement region in Labrador).


The Inupiat are the Inuit people of Alaska's Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs and the Bering Straits region. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, is in the Inupiat region. Their language is known as Inupiaq.


The Inuvialuit live in the western Canadian Arctic region. They are descendants of the Thule people, of which other descendants inhabit Russia and parts of Scandinavia. Their homeland - the Inuvialuit Settlement Region - covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border east to Amundsen Gulf and includes the western Canadian Arctic Islands. The land was demarked in 1984 by the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.


The Kalaallit live in Greenland.


The 'Yupik are indigenous or aboriginal peoples who live along the coast of western Alaska, especially on the Yukon- Kuskokwim delta and along the Kuskokwim River (Central Alaskan Yupik), in southern Alaska (the Alutiiq) and in the Russian Far East and St. Lawrence Island in western Alaska (the Siberian Yupik).


The Alutiiq also called Pacific Yupik or Sugpiaq, are a southern, coastal branch of Alaskan Yupik. They are not to be confused with the Aleuts, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands. They traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whale, as well as rich land resources such as berries and land mammals. Alutiiq people today live in coastal fishing communities, where they work in all aspects of the modern economy, while also maintaining the cultural value of subsistence. The Alutiiq language is relatively close to that spoken by the Yupik in the Bethel, Alaska area, but is considered a distinct language with two major dialects. The Koniag Dialect is spoken on the Alaska Peninsula and on Kodiak Island. The Chugach Dialect is spoken on the Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound. Residents of Nanwalek, located on southern part of the Kenai Peninsula near Seldovia, speak what they call Sugpiaq and are able to understand those who speak Yupik in Bethel. With a population of approximately 3,000, and the number of speakers in the mere hundreds, Alutiiq communities are currently in the process of revitalizing their language.

Siberian Yupik (Yuit)

Siberian Yupik reside along the coast of the Chukchi Peninsula in the far northeast of the Russian Federation and the St. Lawrence Island of Alaska. They speak Central Siberian Yupik, a Yupik language related to the other Yupik in Russia and Alaska. They were also known as Asian or Siberian Eskimo.


Traditionally, the Eskimo languages family was divided into Inuit and Yup'ik (or Yup'ik-Yuit). However, recent research suggests that Yup'ik by itself is not a valid node, or, equivalently, that the Inuit dialect continuum is but one of several languages of the Yup'ik group. However, although it may be technically correct to replace the term Eskimo with Yup'ik in this classification, this would not be acceptable to most Inuit. Also, the Alaskan-Siberian dichotomy appears to have been geographical rather than linguistic.

An overview of the Eskimo-Aleut languages family is given below:

Aleut language
Western-Central dialects: Atkan, Attuan, Unangan, Bering (60-80 speakers)
Eastern dialect: Unalaskan, Pribilof (400 speakers)
Eskimo (Yup'ik, Yuit, and Inuit)
Central Alaskan Yup'ik (10,000 speakers)
Alutiiq or Pacific Gulf Yup'ik (400 speakers)
Yuit or Central Siberian Yupik (Chaplinon and St Lawrence Island, 1400 speakers)
Naukan (70 speakers)
Inuit or Inupik (75,000 speakers)
Iñupiaq (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun or Inuktun (western Canada; 765 speakers)
Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 30,000 speakers)
Kalaallisut (Greenland, 47,000 speakers)
Sirenik (extinct)
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