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“Real” Eskimos




People of Alaska

I am always a bit concerned when any kind of social studies type material for kids is this old.  I also know that there are many cultures that make up the native peoples of Alaska.  I was under the impression that use of Eskimo was not appropriate and that Inuit or Yupik were preferred terms.   I would love it if someone could correct me on this.

Another irritation is the description in WorldCat:

Describes the past and present way of life of the “Real People,” the Eskimos of Alaska.

Do you think that the folks over at the  “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks might like this?  I had no idea that the people of Alaska were not real!


0 Responses to “Real” Eskimos

  • So I’m far from being an expert, but I’m given to understand that the term “eskimo” is no longer considered as bad as it once was. It’s still the only standard term for the language family that includes the Inuit and Yupik language groups. Nor is it likely, as was once believed, to have an offensive original meaning. The most likely meaning is something like “snowshoe netter” or “speaker of a different language”. It’s not clear why this is any more offensive than ethnic terms like “Welsh” (which, in Old English, meant something like “Romanised foreigner”), “German”, or “Albanian”, which are completely unrelated to the relevant Welsh, German and Albanian words.

    Furthermore, the problem with rejecting “eskimo” is that there’s no other term to cover the indigenous peoples of that part of the world. In Canada and Greenland, they’re all Inuit, so that works; but in Alaska, there are Inuit and Yupik people, and calling them all Inuit is like calling all Scandinavians Swedish – especially as the Alaskan Inuit usually call themselves Inupiat!

    For this reason, I understand it to be the case that “Eskimo” is generally still seen as acceptable in Alaska, and is certainly preferable to Inuit as a catch-all term.

  • I run that blog, and I think it’s awesome. “real people” indeed. So that’s eskimos and models in the category of not quite real.

  • We don’t use eskimo here in Canada, from the Wikipedia entry it seems to be an acceptable term in Alaska…
    But seeing as this book is hitting its 40th birthday it may be a good idea to weed.
    I figure that in the last 40 years the traditional way of life has changed to include snowmobiles, GPS & TV not to mention global warming & pollution…

  • I worked in a native village in Alaska for five years. The preferred term was Inupiaq which when translated means “the real people.” Perhaps that is where the “real people” comment from the book comes from. The group of people I worked with didn’t find the term Eskimo offensive. They kind of thought the stereotypes were kind of amusing. When I would go home for Christmas my students would tell me to tell everyone down in Minnesota that they lived in Igloos and rubbed noses.

  • I don’t get this business about quotation marks. You surely can’t think the library catalogue ought to omit them and thus assert that these people are real and others are not? “The real people” is of course a kind of nickname, supposedly a translation of their name for themselves.

  • I actually live in an “Eskimo” (Yup’ik) area and their name, translated, does mean the “Real People”. I don’t know if that is somehow related to the title, but it’s possible.

  • I agree with Heather and Harry’s interpretation that “real people” must be a translation of a nickname. It’s pretty common; the Delaware Indians called themselves Lenni Lenape, which means “the true people”. (As an aside, I learned a few words of their language in Scouts once, and I was told that “Lenape” meant “man”, which led me to suspect that “Lenni Lenape” meant “manly men”, which amused my teenage self greatly.)

  • I teach about Native American tribes and their legends. Most tribes named themselves “the people” in one form or another in their own language.

  • Yeah, “Real People” definitely looks like a term that was probably translated from a word they use to refer to themselves, so I don’t think it’s unecessary in this case at all.

    Garic’s explanation of the term “Eskimo” was really interesting. It’s something I’ve wondered for a while as well.

    Anyway, as others have said, the age of this book probably makes it worthy of weeding.

  • I initially took the quotes to perhaps imply/indicate that the word ‘Eskimo’ translates to “Real People” in English. Like ‘Diné’ — the Navajo word for Navajo — means ‘the people’. But ‘real’ people? Maybe construing it this way is a stretch.

    • Part of the reason “Eskimo” fell out of favor is because folks used it to refer to non-Eskimos. I’m Alaskan, and only have experience with Alaska Natives, so I’ll use those terms, but it might extend further than just Alaska.

      We do have both Yup’ik and Inupiaq Eskimos (I do believe that “Inupiaq” means “the real people”, and if I’m not mistaken, so does “Yup’ik” in a different dialect). These folks, along with the Alutiq, don’t mind being called Eskimos.

      We also have Athabascan Indians, which are also called the Den’ina, who are related to the Diné. They are also “the real people”. These folks, along with the Aleuts, don’t much like being called Eskimos, because that is not what they are.

  • Interesting discussion! I never considered the quote use to be a translation, if that is true then the use is appropriate. Cool information on the native populations… I am now running to the youth section and check our materials on Alaska Native peoples.

  • One of the elders explained to me that the “real” of real people came from a time when they needed to differentiate between the world and the spirit world.

  • Or they were meaning to distance themselves from Sarah Palin …..

  • I don’t think she’s that bad.

    Isn’t there also a term ‘First Nations’ that’s used sometimes?

  • Isn’ t that Sarah Palin,Tripp,Todd,Trigger,Tigger,Tippy,Toppy, and Track posing as Eskimos?

    • Not exactly. Sarah Palin is not Eskimo. Todd Palin is 1/8 Yup’ik Eskimo, which makes their children Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig 1/16. Bristol’s son Tripp is likely 1/32 (as I’m not sure Levi Johnston has Yup’ik hertiage).

  • For Lithtox and others who are interested.
    Leni Lenape means the, “Pure, Abiding with the pure.” The name derived from the Old Norse words “Hrein, Hrein aa bye.” The Norwegians still have the word “Ren,” meaning “Pure.” The Norwegians roll their “R” sound. Americans (Indians) rarely use the “R” sound. They use “R” sound. They use the “L” sound instead.
    The mothers of the Leni Lenape have DNA called Haplo X, which is the same as the Okney Islands north of Scotland. The mothers of Exkimos in Alaska have Haplo D, which is similar fo mothers in Siberia.

  • Indigenous people!

    To better understand the impact of having a label applied to your being, and enjoy the learning at the same time, go to the theater and view the movie “Avatar.”

    Alas we might recognize that we are all just “real people,” deckhands on this spaceship earth!

  • Has anyone read the book?

  • I agree that ‘Eskimo’ is not politically correct, generally replaced nowadays by Inuit or Aleuit. Many different ethnic groups’ words for themselves mean something like ‘We, the Real People’ and you will find that their words for other , neighbouring ethnic groups are often, by our standards, racist: ‘The Bad People’, ‘Hairy Ones’ or whatever. The Greek word ‘Barbaros’, from which we get ‘barbarian’, means ‘People who sound like sheep when they talk’, ‘Baa baa’.

    On the other hand, the well-known Greek word ‘Xenia’ (as in ‘Xenophobia’ and Warrior Princess!) means both ‘stranger’ and ‘guest’ in Ancient & Modern Greek – which says rather a lot for the civilized hospitality of the Greeks. This was because a beggar who came to your door might well be a god or goddess in disguise…

  • So they’re the “Real People” of Alaska? Ha! Take THAT, Sarah Palin!

  • My understanding (and I am certainly not an expert) is that the term ‘Eskimo’ comes from the Montagnais language (from the aboriginal peoples in the Canadian province of Quebec) and is not a word that any ‘Eskimo’ person would have historically applied to themselves. It’s modern usage groups several distinct cultures together (Inuit, Inuvialuit, Yup’ik). While this is often seen as convenient for non indigenous people, it is a bit like saying there are no differences between Canadians, Americans and Mexicans. In Canada it is seen as a very offensive term.

  • The fact that a term is general doesn’t make it offensive. What about “North American” or “British”? Surely it’s worse to get confused between Inuit, Inuvialuit, Yup’ik and use the wrong name. We can’t all be experts on the different groups, andy more than I’d expect an Inuit to know where the border between England and Wales lies.

  • Its Inuit now in Canada. The one thing I remember about Native Studies is that Eskimo was a derogatory term used by First Nations. It literally means eater of raw meat.

  • In the Frozen Trail to Merica: Talerman book on p.351 I wrote “Eskimo is an Indian name for ”’eater of raw meat.'” The Eskimos in the books are good guys.