Who the Eskimos Are

Eskimos possess a unique culture in a cold, harsh environment. They belong to the Mongoloid racial group. Eskimo language, part of the Eskimo-Aleut language family, consists of two branchesYupik and Inuit. Yupik is spoken in Siberia and southwestern Alaska, Inuit in northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. The Inuit language has several dialects and is called Inupiaq in Alaska, Inuktitut in Canada, and Kalaallisut in Greenland. In addition to their own language many Eskimos read, write, and speak English (in North America), Danish (in Greenland), and Russian (in Siberia).

Archeologists believe that the ancestors of the Eskimos reached North America by coming across the Bering Strait from Asia. Some believe they arrived as early as 6000 B.C., while others believe the migration occurred as late as 3000 B.C. Many fishing tools of a distinctive type that date from about 2500 B.C. to 1200 B.C. have been found in the Arctic regions of North America; most archeologists believe they were made by ancestors of the Eskimos. The earliest artifacts known to be of Eskimo origin were made after 1200 B.C.

In the 18th century, when Europeans first made extensive contact with the Eskimos, there were approximately 60,000 Eskimos in North America. Contact with the Europeans exposed Eskimos to new diseases, and epidemics of smallpox, influenza, and measles killed thousands. With the establishment of medical facilities in the 20th century, however, the death rate declined. By the beginning of the 21st century, there were about 132,000 Eskimos, with about 46,000 in the United States, 44,000 in Greenland, 41,000 in Canada, and 1,000 in Siberia.

Contact with other cultures has greatly changed the way of life of many Eskimos. They have moved from small, isolated hunting and fishing settlements to larger villages and towns, ranging in size from several hundred to a few thousand persons. They have maintained many traditional practices and beliefs while adopting a more modern way of life. In sharp contrast to the traditional way of life of Eskimos, they wear store-bought clothing and drive all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. Some operate motorboats. Televisions, computers, and microwave ovens are owned by many Eskimos.

Eskimos work in all sectors of the economy. Some are salespersons, miners, and construction workers, while others are technicians, government officials, and teachers. Many artists have formed cooperatives to sell their carvings, prints, and handicrafts. Tourism is another important source of income. Most communities have tour companies that offer land and sea expeditions.

Educational and medical facilities have been provided by government agencies. Modern life has brought problems as well as benefits. Beginning in the 1970's Eskimos formed regional and national organizations to represent their social, economic, and political interests.

The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), founded in 1971, lobbied for land claims agreements and promoted the increased use of the Inuktitut language in schools, government, and broadcasting. ITC activities led to the creation of the Inuit territory of Nunavut in 1999.

In 1977 the Inuit Circumpolar Conference was founded in Barrow, Alaska, to represent the interests of Eskimos and Inuit in Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. The international organization meets every three years to discuss common problems, such as economic development, protection of the Arctic environment, and preservation of traditional culture.