Pacific Eskimo - Orientation

Identification. The three major groups lumped under the label "Pacific Eskimo" live on the south coast of Alaska, from the Alaska Peninsula, where they border the Aleut, east to the Copper River, where they border the Tlingit and Eyak. The Pacific Eskimo include the Koniag (Kanagist, Kanjagi, Koniagi, Kychtagmytt, Qiqtarmiut), Chugach (Chiugachi, Shugarski), and the inhabitants of the lower Kenai Peninsula, now called the "Unegkurmiut." Locally, the groups were called the "Aleut" as the Russians lumped the two together. More recently, "Alutiiq" has been used as a collective name for the three groups.

Location. The Koniag live on Kodiak Island and the Eastern section of the Alaska Peninsula. The Chugach live along the coast of Prince William Sound and on offshore islands. The Unegkurmiut live on the lower Kenai Peninsula. Aboriginally and today all settlements were either on the coast or on inlets, as the economy is based on the exploitation of sea mammals and fish. The region is a major center of earthquake activity with at least twenty-two occurring in historic times Including a major one in 1964.

Demography. At the time of first contact in about 1784 there were an estimated nine thousand Pacific Eskimo. By 1800 the population had dropped to six thousand and then, following a smallpox epidemic, three thousand in 1850. Today, there are about two thousand Pacific Eskimo, with the Koniag the largest group and the majority living on Kodiak Island.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Pacific Eskimo speak Pacific Yup'ik, one of the five Yup'ik languages. There were dialect differences from one locale to another. Today all Pacific Eskimo speak English and only about 25 percent speak Pacific Yup'ik.

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