ETHNONYMS: Esquimox, Esquimaux

The name "Eskimo" has been applied to the native peoples of the Arctic since the sixteenth century; ironically, it is not an Eskimo word. For close to a century both anthropological and popular sources, including the Oxford English and Webster's New World dictionaries, maintained that the name "Eskimo" derived from a proto-Algonkian root translating as "eaters of the raw flesh." In fact, the name originated in the Montagnais language and had no such meaning. Eskimos refer to themselves with terms that translate as "real people" or "authentic human beings." These self-names vary from one Eskimo language to another and include the names "Inuit," "Inummaariit," "Inuvialat," "Inupiat," "Yup'ik," "Suxpiat," and "Unangan." The strength of the belief by Eskimos themselves in the pejorative connotations of their name was a major factor in its replacement, in Canada and Greenland since the 1970s, by the designation "Inuit," an ethnonym used by eastern Arctic Eskimos and Canadian Arctic Eskimos. In Alaska and Siberia, however, the term has never taken root. Although the Eskimos of the western Arctic are indeed members of the larger family of Eskimo cultures, they refer to themselves in their own language as "Yup'ik," "Inupiat," or "Unangan." To call them "Inuit" is inaccurate, and there is no all-encompassing native name for the entire native population of the Arctic.


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