Who Are The Eskimo People? Where Do They Live?

An Iñupiat family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929.

Who Are The Eskimo People?

Eskimos or the Inuits are the indigenous people inhabiting parts of the northern circumpolar region ranging from Siberia to Canada. The term Eskimo is slowly being replaced by the Canadian term ‘Inuit’ or ‘Yupik.' Each of these terms is used by different settlements of Eskimos. In Canada, Greenland, and Northern Alaska, the Eskimos identify with Inuit or the subgroup Inupiat while Yupik refers to the Eskimos inhabiting Alaska and eastern Siberia. The term Eskimo is considered derogatory in some areas, especially Canada and Greenland since it is perceived to translate to “eaters of raw meat” in Algonkian languages. There exists a third group known as the Aleut, who inhabit the Aleutian Islands, and who are closely related to the Eskimos. The most closely related group to the Eskimos are the Mongolian people inhabiting eastern Asia. Eskimos inhabit arctic regions which are characterized by extreme cold.

History Of The Eskimos

Archaeological evidence has suggested that Eskimos settled in North America some 5,000 years ago. This early group evolved in Alaska from people closely related to the Arctic small tool tradition, a cultural entity which developed in eastern Asia. The ancestors of this entity had relocated to Alaska from Siberia an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 years earlier. Artifacts discovered in Alaska have been found to be similar to those found in Siberia, dating as far as 18,000 years ago. At the first extensive contact with Europeans, the Eskimo population totaled about 50,000, and it has remained relatively constant throughout centuries.

Languages Spoken By The Eskimos

Languages spoken by the Eskimo people are classified in the Eskimo-Aleut family. The Eskimo languages branches into the Inuit and the Yupik languages. The Inuit language is marked by numerous dialects which differ by region and community. The Inuit dialects are:

Inuktitut- This language is one of the Inuit dialects with speakers in Canada and Greenland. In Canada, the language is accorded official status in the Northwest Territories as well as in Nunavut. Its sub-dialects include Inuttitut and Nunavimmiutitut.

Iñupiaq- This dialect is spoken by approximately 2,000 people in northwestern and northern Alaska. The language lacks categories for articles and gender, and its dialects are divided into two groups namely Northern Alaskan Iñupiaq and Seward Peninsula Iñupiaq.

Inuvialuktun- This dialect consists of several varieties of Inuit spoken in western Canada which are Siglitun, Inuinnaqtun, Uummarmiutun, and Natsilingmiutut.

Kalaallisut- This dialect is spoken in Greenland where it boasts about 57,000 speakers. It is an official language in the nation.

The Yupik group of languages is categorized into:

Central Siberian Yupik- This language is primarily spoken by the Siberian Yupik people in Siberia, and it also has speakers in St. Lawrence Island which is part of Alaska.

Central Alaskan Yup’ik- This language has about 10,000 speakers in southwestern and western Alaska. It has the second largest speakers as far as indigenous languages are concerned in the US.


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