Inuit or Eskimo: Which name to use?

by Lawrence Kaplan

Although the name "Eskimo" was commonly used in Alaska to refer to Inuit and Yupik people of the world, this usage is now considered unacceptable by many or even most Alaska Natives, largely since it is a colonial name imposed by non-Indigenous people. Alaska Natives increasingly prefer to be known by the names they use in their own languages, such as Inupiaq or Yupik. "Inuit" is now the current term in Alaska and across the Arctic, and "Eskimo" is fading from use. The Inuit Circumpolar Council prefers the term "Inuit" but some other organizations use "Eskimo".

Linguists believe that "Eskimo" is derived from a Montagnais (Innu) word ayas̆kimew meaning "netter of snowshoes." The people of Canada and Greenland have long preferred other names. "Inuit," meaning "people," is used in Canada, and the language is called "Inuktitut" in eastern Canada although other local designations are used also. The Inuit people of Greenland refer to themselves as "Greenlanders" or "Kalaallit" in their language, which they call "Greenlandic" or "Kalaallisut." Alaska includes the Inupiat, literally "real people", and other groups that are included under the overall designation of "Inuit".

"Inuit" is often used to encompass all Inuit and Yupik people, although I often speak of "Inuit and Yupik people" or “Inuit and Yupik languages". "Inuit" is the plural of "inuk" meaning "person", and "Yupik" is a singular word meaning "real person" based on the root word "yuk” meaning "person".

Note that mainland Yup’ik people prefer the spelling with p’, which indicates a long or geminate p. Yupik without the apostrophe refers to the people of St. Lawrence Island and the nearby coast of Chukotka in Russia. The inhabitants of Kodiak Island call themselves Alutiiq, while the closely related people of the southern Kenai Peninsula prefer the name Sugpiaq. The people of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands prefer to call themselves Unanga rather than Aleut.




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