Monday, January 7, 2013


This week, we're reading My Name is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson.  Since there's so much about the Eskimo people in the book, we decided on a little history lesson.  Lesson one: Inuit-Yupik means Eskimo!

This is how most people imagine an Eskimo family. 
Which, is actually pretty accurate.

The Eskimo people have been around for about 5,000 years (way longer than any of the rest of us have been here, let's face it.)  They generally live in Eastern Siberia, Alaska (in the recent US Census counts, about 19% of Alaskans are Native American or Native Alaskan), all across Canada and in Greenland.  Most speak Yupik, though the language has many different dialects. (In those same aforementioned Census results, it was calculated that about 85% of Alaskans over the age of 5 speak only English at home. 3.5% speak Spanish, 2.2% speak another Indo-European language, 4.3% speak an Asian language, and 5.3% speak "other" languages - which includes the Native Alaskan languages - at home.) While the official name is Inuit-Yupik, anyone not in Alaska usually calls them Eskimos (mainly because we can't pronounce the name.  Which... is almost entirely the point of the book we're reading this week.  So chew on that one for awhile.)
Inuit-Yupik is also to reflect both groups (or tribes) of the Eskimo people.  There is a third group of Eskimos, called Aluet.  Technically, the word Eskimo does not refer to this group of people.  All three branches also have their own form of the language and dialect, which you can see the breakdown of 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)
Central Siberian Yupik or Yuit (Chaplinon and St Lawrence Island, 1,400 speakers)
Naukan (700 speakers)
Inuit or Inupik (75,000 speakers)
Iñupiaq (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun (western Canada; together with Siglitun, Natsilingmiutut, Inuinnaqtun and Uummarmiutun 765 speakers)
Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 30,000 speakers)
Kalaallisut (Greenland, 47,000 speakers)
Inuktun (Avanersuarmiutut, Thule dialect or Polar Eskimo, approximately 1,000 speakers)
Tunumiit oraasiat (East Greenlandic known as Tunumiisut, 3,500 speakers)
Sirenik Eskimo language (Sirenikskiy) (extinct)

So what differs between the Eskimo we think of and the real deal?  Well, for one, they don't live in the houses made of ice that we think of as Igloos.  Igloo means "House" so while, technically, they do live in igloos, it's not the one you're thinking of.  That's not to say that the snow covered structures don't exist!  They are just temporary houses, however, built for survival during the hunting season.

Igloo we traditionally think of.

Real (temporary) Igloo.

Also (technically) an Igloo.

They also don't have thousands of words for snow.  While there are many, it's not thousand (probably more like 50.)  There are however, many words for ice, because they describe color, type and even how to cross it, in just a word.

And if you've ever used a kayak, you can thank the native peoples of Alaska. "Kayak" is what they called their canoes made from the skin of animals they hunted.


  1. The family above are Inupiat I believe. I was just studying what the difference was between Inupiat and Yupik and found this image on Wikipedia.,_Alaska,_1929,_Edward_S._Curtis_(restored).jpg

    1. It's entirely possible. I wasn't putting it up there to specify what tribe they were, just that that is how we traditionally think of Eskimos.

      Thanks for the info!