North Alaskan Eskimos - Orientation

Identification. The North Alaskan Eskimos are located along the coast of northern Alaska. The name "Eskimo" is of foreign derivation, although there is considerable disagreement about where and when it originated. The North Alaskan Eskimos refer to themselves collectively as "Iñupiat," or "authentic people." "Nunamiut" was and is used as a general designation for people who spend the winter inland, and "Tariurmiut" is the corresponding term for coast dwellers. "Malemiut" is derived from a Yup'ik Eskimo word from Norton Sound that was formerly used to denote the speakers of an Iñuit dialect from Kotzebue Sound. The term was frequently used erroneously in late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century literature to refer to a tribal entity of some kind. Its use is now restricted in the technical literature to the name for a regional dialect.

Location. Aboriginally, the North Alaskan Eskimos occupied the coast of northern Alaska from the western tip of Kotzebue Sound to the mouth of the Colville River, and the entire hinterland drained by rivers reaching the sea between those two points. In the late nineteenth century they expanded eastward along the Arctic coast to beyond what is now the Canadian border, and southward to the eastern shore of Norton Sound.

Demography. The population at the beginning of the 1800s was probably about eight thousand to nine thousand people. There was a decline of some 75 percent in the last quarter of that century, but the population began to recover early in the twentieth century. By about 1975 it had reached its traditional level, and it has continued to grow since.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the North Alaskan Eskimos belongs to the Eskimo branch of the Eskaleut Language family. More specifically, it is an Iñuit Eskimo Language, which is spoken from Bering Strait across northern North America to Greenland. Within North Alaska, the Malemiut dialect is spoken in eleven villages of the Kotzebue Sound drainage and three on the shore of Norton Sound, and the North Slope dialect is spoken in the eight villages north of Kotzebue Sound.

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