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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eskimo?

Once in a great while I will send an order from one of my stores over seas. Australia, Ireland,.....Florida.... and other far away places. I love living vicariously through my own tiny packages, as I imagine them being opened in air that is so very different than mine.

A woman in Germany wanted me to send a bunch of stuff to her so that she could sell it in her brick and mortar store, so I send about 10 pieces. She asked for a short bio paragraph. Without really thinking about it I began with...'I am an Inupiaq Eskimo......'

A few days later she emailed me back with notes about this and that. She also told me that her friend who was Canadian was very uneasy about using the 'Eskimo.' Said it wasn't very politically correct. I googled it later and it seems that in Canada it is considered a demeaning and very negative racist word.

I emailed her back that I did not mind one way or the other.....that I would leave it up to her.

But it did spark a conversation. A few thoughts on the matter. I get all excited about these things because it's something I haven't really thought about yet.

Is the term Eskimo racist? Politically incorrect? And why do I find it so easy to use? Why did I even use it in the first place?

I first started thinking about what other terms I could identify myself and my artwork by. The absolutely first title I call myself by is Tikigaqmiut. It identifies where I come from, and it is one of the first things you learn as a child. I'm from Tikigaq, in English: Point Hope. Of course because of the internet my clientele 90% are not even from Alaska, and only about 5% are from the North Slope and would even know what that title would mean. I tried that in the begining, and spent most of my day emailing potential clients explaining to them what it meant. I debated on what my purpose was in selling my artwork online. I settled on it only being half explaining, and half selling. Which meant I would have to find another title.

I also found the same type of problem using the next broadest title: Inupiat, The Real People. too few people actually knew what that was. We span the whole entire North Slope of Alaska and yet the world knows so very little about us, and there is very little information on the internet (yet it is growing). I think the main reason is that we aren't really known for anything spectacular. Not like the more popular Apache or Mohican or any other tribal names whispered in American History for hundreds of years. We are only part of Americas newest history, not even old enough to make it in the high school textbooks yet. Google us and you will find a very small amount of national news or in depth coverage....mostly having to do with oil from Prudhoe Bay.

So what's next? Most artists I know identify themselves as 'Alaskan Native.' But it's such a broad term that it is ridiculous. Alaska is the largest state in the US, and can span from one coast to the other. There are 24 different Alaskan Native tribes in Alaska. Each separate and different from each other. The difference in culture between a Tsimshian and an Inupiat is amazing, a huge gap just as big as the difference between a New Yorker and a Texan. I had a person innocently ask me if I carve tiny totem poles once, and it made me consider changing my description once again.

The next step would be to just call myself 'Inuit'....as it would fit most of the requirements. It's readily identifiable due to the Inuit art movement in Canada, it also describes my Northern arctic culture and my work and materials. But I ran into a few problems with that title also. The first problem that first arose is that everyone assumed I was working out of Canada, as some did not know that Inuits span the arctic. Some people asked me where my stone work was. Some people critiqued me on not using proper traceable records keeping and marking that is common in Canada. In the end I decided that too much information was just as bad. As most do not know the difference between us and our Eastern brothers. I even had people tell me that they would have bought my stuff if I was Canadian Inuit, because Canadian Inuit is collectable and hip. My stuff wasn't 'Inuit' enough.........talk about a downer......

So I moved on to other titles.

The world has treated each group of Inuit natives completely differently. The U.S., Russia, Canada, ect. Each has it's own history and flavor (most of it is very depressing.) Some of it is still depressing. But each area moves at it's own pace and arrives at different things in different ways. And I think it would be wrong to apply one thing, to all the Arctic.....The Arctic peoples, though different, all have one thing in common, we adapt to change and survive. We are flexible and strong as willow branches..... and we hang onto the spare arctic soil just as faithfully.

And so in the end I stick with Inupiaq Eskimo....one word needing a little googling to understand, paired with another word readily identifiable. It's either that or Inuit - American - Alaskan Native - Inupiat - Tikigaqmiut/Nunamiut.......

11 comments:

  1. I am from the east coast and growing up, I was taught that 'Eskimo' is a derogatory term. I have read/been told that one of the reasons that it has been and continues to be used in Alaska is because the Yupik are not Inuit, so while all of the 'Eskimos' in Canada are Inuit, the same is not true for Alaska. There is not an alternate 'umbrella' term that I'm aware of that would serve the same purpose as 'Eskimo' in Alaska. (Which is not to mention the question of who decides what is derogatory--this obviously depends on who you ask and fluctuates over time). I think that people should be aware of the varied historical and contemporary meanings of group names, but should generally respect what those groups choose to call themselves. So I am happy to call you whatever you decide!

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  2. Good post, I like how you keep it complicated.

    Growing up in Anchorage I too always thought Eskimo was derogatory. It seems curious that wouldn't be able to figure out Inupiaq (but maybe not). Anyways, I agree with Carrie--it's up to you.

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  3. I guess it's kinda of a language reclaim. Like. I can call myself "Queer" since I am in the LGBTQ community, but if a straight/cisperson calles me Queer, it's considered homophobic.

    I guess it's in the same context. I can' call you "Eskimo" as I am Anglo, but you can reclaim that word.

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  4. I have lived in Alaska for 37 of my 48 years.

    I from Southeast and never in a million years would I have used the word "Eskimo" in a derogatory way.

    My sister-in-law and all their kids whom I am very proud of and love very much are "Athabaskan Eskimo" and extremely proud of it. My brother-in-law was Japaneese.

    I have always thought of all of us as American and boy is that something to be.

    Only those who look for the derogatory will find and use it.

    It is not our fault that some people are "stupid".

    Laura

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  5. I grew up in Alaska & though Caucasian, my parent's best friends (kind of 2nd parents) were Alaska Native (one Tlingit/Haida, the other Athabaskan). I was always taught that my intonation was very important when using the word Eskimo or any other native appellation. I was told it was better to say Eskimo in a positive manner than to assume whether they were Yupik or Inupiat & be incorrect, as that could be offensive. I was told to use Indian in the same way. Though I can usually guess properly whether someone is Athabaskan or Haida, I say Indian respectfully so that I don't assume incorrectly. Of course if I knew the person in question fairly well, then I just deferred to Auntie or Uncle.

    Anyway, just what I was taught. I didn't know Eskimo was considered negative in Canada, I know many people here are very proud of claiming it.

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  6. I am from Anchorage.
    "Eskimo" is slightly casual while "Alaska Native" is the most PC. 'Eskimo' is not generally considered a racist word here, although I would prefer to identify someone as Athabaskan, Aleut, Inupiaq, etc. if I knew which tribe he or she were a member of.

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  7. Wow, I think people are too tied up in what's "politically correct" They need to get a life. You are what you are and who you are and it's up to you to be either proud of who and what you are or ashamed of it.

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  8. I think you had a great piece to talk about. It never hit me until I was in a baleen art class and my teacher said we are inupiaq! They banned that in Canada. But I never worried to much. It's just been what we've always been called. I like your blog:)

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  9. i have also heard that the term "Eskimo" is not the best term to use, rather Inuit is the preferred term (but according to who?). I tend to use Inuit just so as not to sound politically incorrect. But it's hard to know what term is appropriate sometimes.
    By the way, I have been up to Alaska once and loved it! Absolutely beautiful place.

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  10. Eskimo is just fine, the name implies this visit to Earth, and as such, to these fine people, whom dwell in such remoteness, in such distance from others. Yet in the most true sense, we are all tourists, that perpetuate our family in the grandest scheme of tourism. We return to the 'Source' as some would term, Heaven, our true home. We are tourists, we are travelers of the multiverses, Universes that are on our travel plans. You see, we can be anywhere, as we desire as the 'Source' is where we are from and "Love" would have it no other way. Our visit to this Earth brings us new family members that we will always belong to, eternally, in infinite chapter, yet for now, we have amnesia. This amnesia is the arrangement to all whom travel here, Earth's experience, because we could not have this experience should we remember all of our past adventures. We, for now, have the Earth's experience, in all of it's offerings, and when we return to the 'Source' we bring with us this pure experience, in wonder...to share with all others for all eternity!"

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  11. The only reason why I would be concerned about using the word Eskimo is because I am writing a series of articles and posts about the Eskimo Curlew, the most common and familiar name of a bird tht's extremely rare and might be close to extinction. It was named after the region it bred in. I am one of those people who would be horrified if any anyone told me I was using a racist word. But, if I called these birds anything else, no one would know what I was talking about. To me, personally, I don't think saying Eskimo is any worse than someone saying Latino, Scandinavian, or British. But, I would hate to be labeled as a racist all because I cared about a little bird.

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