Asiatic Eskimos - Orientation

Identification. The Asiatic Eskimos belong to the Arctic (Eskimo) Group of the Great Mongolian racial category; they are the indigenous population of the northeastern and southeastern shore of the Chukchee Peninsula and the St. Lawrence Islands. Their territory belongs administratively to the Chukchee Autonomous District (okrug) (with its center in Anadyr') of the Magadansk region (its center is the town of Magadan). To the west Magadan borders on Yakutia, to the south on the Kamchatka region. The St. Lawrence Islands, 64 kilometers from the shore of Chukotka, belong administratively to Alaska. Contacts between Eskimos of the various settlements, especially those of the coastal and island dwellers, have been very close. After 1936 the reciprocal trips of Soviet and American Eskimos, until that time regular and very popular, were subject to the deteriorating relations between the two nations, and during the Cold War (after 1948) they ended completely. Contacts have been gradually renewed since 1988.

Location. Until the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries the Asiatic Eskimos lived on a much larger territory than they do today: along the shore of the Arctic Ocean from Bering Cape to Helena and, farther to the south, in an unbroken chain of settlements as far as the Bering Sea and along the southern shore of the Chukchee Sea to Kresta Bay. The duration of their occupation of this area has not been established. The settlements of the Eskimos abutted on those of the sedentary Chukchee. Until the 1920s and 1930s the Eskimos lived in twelve to fifteen nearly single-ethnic settlements on the northern and southern parts of the Chukchee shore. At the present time a large number of the Asiatic Eskimos are concentrated in five settlements—three village centers (New Chaplino, Sireniki, and Uel-kal') and two administrative centers (Providence and Lawrence). In these settlements the Eskimos constitute over 50 percent of the population only in New Chaplino. All the village centers are multinational: the Eskimos live in close contact with the Chukchee and immigrant Russians. The two administrative centers are settled basically by Russians: Eskimos and Chukchee constitute only an insignificant part of the population.

Demography. According to the first census, carried out by N. S. Gondatti in 1895, the Asiatic Eskimos numbered 1,307 persons. That number has remained relatively unchanged: 1,301 (1926); 1,309 (1939); 1,118 (1959); 1,308 (1970); 1,510 (1979); 1,720 (1989). It may be that the numbers for 1979 and 1989 are somewhat inflated.

The demographic structure of the Asiatic Eskimos at the beginning of the twentieth century was stable: men and women were about equal in number; there were many people capable of work, a high birthrate, and a high percentage of children younger than 16. The official thesis that the Asiatic Eskimos are suffering from "degradation" and dying out does not correspond to reality. The rather low natural growth of the population was the result of a high mortality rate, a shortened longevity, and outbreaks of exogenous mortality during years of epidemic and famine. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, as a result of a real "policy of amalgamation"—that is, the massive closure of traditional settlements and ill-conceived, sometimes forceful resettlement of the inhabitants to larger and, from the point of view of the authorities, "more suitably located places"—the demographic structure of the Asiatic Eskimos was destroyed, traditional groups mixed with each other, and the Eskimos became a minority amid the Russian population. The Asiatic Eskimos were in the worst possible demographic situation toward the end of the 1980s: an extremely high mortality rate (including child and infant mortality), an abundance of single-parent families, and the destruction of traditional patterns of marital relations all put the Asiatic Eskimos on the verge of extinction. At the present time there are signs of a gradual recovery.

In part these signs are connected with the reestablishment of direct contacts with their blood relatives on the St. Lawrence Islands. As a result of these contacts, the self-consciousness of the Asiatic Eskimos suddenly changed: they recognized that they were part of a larger ethnicity—indeed, their number "rose" from 1,700 to 2,800 persons. As they could easily see during their trips to the islands to visit relatives, another life better provided for and more dignified, was possible. This development may bring back to them their long-lost belief in themselves and inspire hope in the future.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Asiatic Eskimos speak three languages. Two are closely related: the Chaplinsky (Unaziksky) and Naukansky variants of Siberian Yupik; the third, Old Sirenikovsky, has practically disappeared. Siberian Yupik, along with two languages of the Eskimos of Alaska, belongs to the Yupik Language Group. The Yupik Group together with Old Sirenikovsky and the Innuit Group of northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland constitute the Eskimo Branch of the Eskimo-Aleut Language Family. In the past the Asiatic Eskimo inhabitants of the extreme northeast of Chukotka spoke a language of the Innuit Group, but today it has disappeared. There are about 50 speakers of Naukansky, 200 of Chaplinsky, and 1 of Old Sirenikovsky (a 74-year-old resident of the settlement of Sireniki).

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