Eskimo, Inuit, and Inupiaq: Do these terms mean the same thing?


There seems to be a lot of confusion about what to call the Alaskan Eskimo people. Here are the terms that are often confused and an explanation of the differences.

Eskimo, Inuit, and Inupiaq:

Terms used to mean this group of people:

Eskimo (singular), Eskimos (plural), Eskimoans (adjective), [From French Esquimaux, (earlier spelling Esqimawe or Esquimau), possibly from Spanish esquimao(s) or esquimal, from Montagnais ayashkimew or aiachkimeou– a name for the Micmac, extended or transferred to the Labrador Eskimo; perhaps literally meaning ‘snowshoe-netter’] – A group of peoples inhabiting the Arctic coastal regions and adjacent hinterland of arctic and subarctic regions of North America (Northern Canada, Alaska) and parts of Greenland and northeast Siberia.

Eskimo has come under strong attack in recent years for its supposed offensiveness, and many Americans today either avoid this term or feel uneasy using it. The claim that Eskimo is offensive is based primarily on a popular but disputed etymology tracing its origin to an Abenaki word meaning “eaters of raw meat.”

Though modern linguists speculate that the term actually derives from a Montagnais word referring to the manner of lacing a snowshoe, the matter remains undecided, and meanwhile many English speakers have learned to perceive Eskimo as a derogatory term invented by unfriendly outsiders in scornful reference to their neighbors’ unsophisticated eating habits.

Generally, the term Eskimo is not offensive to the native peoples of Alaska. However, there may be the occasional person who is offended.

Some Inuit people take offense with this term, some do not. Generally, in Canada the term Eskimo should be considered offensive and the term Inuit is preferred.

Eskimo is also the name of a major linguistic branch of the Eskimo-Aluet language family, which is further broken down into the Inupiaq, Allutiiq, Central Yu’pik, Naukanski Yu’pik, Siberian Yu’pik, and Sirenikski languages.

Inuk – Singular form of Inuit, meaning “human being.”
Inuit – This is the plural form of the people’s traditional name for themselves.

Eskimo is a term used to mean people of North America or Greenland, as distinguished from Eskimo people from Asia or the Aleutian Islands. The term Eskimo has largely been replaced by Inuit in Canada, and Inuit is used officially by the Canadian government. Many Inuit people consider Eskimo to be a derogatory term.

However, Eskimo continues to be used in all parts of the world, especially in historical, archaeological, and cultural contexts.

It is widely known that Inuit, a term of ethnic pride, offers an acceptable alternative, but it is less well understood that Inuit cannot substitute for Eskimo in all cases, being restricted in usage to the Inuit speaking peoples of Arctic Canada and parts of Greenland.

In Canada, the term Inuit is used to mean both the Inuit and Yupiak peoples.

InupiatThe singular form of Inupiaq.
InupiaqIn Alaska and Arctic Siberia, where Inuit is not spoken, the comparable terms are Inupiaq and Yupik, neither of which has gained as wide a usage in English as Inuit.

While use of these terms is often preferable when speaking of the appropriate linguistic group, none of them can be used to mean the Eskimoan peoples as a whole; the only all inclusive term remains Eskimo.

is also a linguistic branch of the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aluet language family, which is interchangably referred to as the Inuit language in common usage.
Inuktitut – The term used in Canada for the Inupiaq language. From Inuk, meaning man or human being, and titut, meaning speech.

Inuvialuk – Singular form of Inuvialuit, meaning “real people.”
• Inuvialuit – The Inuvialuit or Western Canadian Inuit are Inuit people who live in the western Canadian Arctic region.

They, like all other Inuit, are descendants of the Thule who migrated eastward from Alaska. Their homeland, called the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border, east through the Beaufort Sea and beyond the Amundsen Gulf which includes some of the western Canadian Arctic Islands, as well as the inland community of Aklavik and part of the Yukon.