Yupik peoples

Yupik peoples
Edward S. Curtis Collection People 008.jpg
Total population
24,000 (2000 U.S. Census)
Regions with significant populations
 United States (primarily in Alaska)

Yupik languages, English (in Alaska), Russian (in Siberia)


Christianity (mostly Russian Orthodox), Shamanism

Related ethnic groups

Inuit, Sirenik, Aleut, Siberian Yupik, Alutiiq, Naukan

The Yupik (in the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik, plural Yupiit), are a group of indigenous or aboriginal peoples of western, southwestern, and southcentral Alaska and the Russian Far East. They include the Central Alaskan Yup'ik people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, the Kuskokwim River, and along the northern coast of Bristol Bay as far east as Nushagak Bay and the northern Alaska Peninsula at Naknek River and Egegik Bay in Alaska; the Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) of the Alaska Peninsula and coastal and island areas of southcentral Alaska; and the Siberian Yupik people of the Russian Far East and St. Lawrence Island[1] in western Alaska. They are Eskimo and are related to the Inuit.

They are one of the four Yupik peoples of Alaska and Siberia, closely related to the Alutiiq (Pacific Yupik) of southcentral Alaska, the Siberian Yupik of St. Lawrence Island and Russian Far East, and the Naukan of Russian Far East. The Yupiit speak the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language.[2] The people of Nunivak Island, speakers of the Nunivak Island dialect of Central Alaskan Yup'ik, call themselves Cup'ig (plural Cup'it); the people of Hooper Bay and Chevak, speakers of the Hooper Bay-Chevak dialect, call themselves Cup'ik (plural Cup'it).

The Central Alaskan Yupik who live on Nunivak Island call themselves Cup'ig (plural Cup'it). Those who live in the village of Chevak call themselves Cup'ik (plural Cup'it).



The Central Alaskan Yupik are by far the most numerous of the various Alaska Native groups and speak the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, a member of the Eskimo–Aleut family of languages.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the Yupik population in the United States numbered over 24,000,[3] of whom over 22,000 lived in Alaska, the vast majority in the seventy or so communities in the traditional Yup'ik territory of western and southwestern Alaska.[4]

Etymology of name

Yup'ik (plural Yupiit) comes from the Yup'ik word yuk meaning "person" plus the post-base -pik meaning "real" or "genuine." Thus, it means literally "real people."[5] The ethnographic literature sometimes refers to the Yup'ik people or their language as Yuk or Yuit. In the Hooper Bay-Chevak and Nunivak dialects of Yup'ik, both the language and the people are given the name Cup'ik.[2]

The use of an apostrophe in the name “Yup’ik”, compared to Siberian “Yupik,” exemplifies the Central Yup’ik’s orthography, where “the apostrophe represents gemination [or lengthening] of the ‘p’ sound”.[6]


Yup'ik mask, Sitka, Alaska, collection of the Alaska State Museum

Traditionally, families spent the spring and summer at fish camp, then joined with others at village sites for the winter. Many families still harvest the traditional subsistence resources, especially salmon and seal.

The men's communal house, the qasgiq, was the community center for ceremonies and festivals which included singing, dancing, and storytelling. The qasgiq was used mainly in the winter months, because people would travel in family groups following food sources throughout the spring, summer, and fall months. Aside from ceremonies and festivals, it was also where the men taught the young boys survival and hunting skills, as well as other life lessons. The young boys were also taught how to make tools and qayaqs (kayaks) during the winter months in the qasgiq. The ceremonies involve a shaman.

A Yupik mask

The women's house, the ena, was traditionally right next door, and in some areas they were connected by a tunnel. Women taught the young girls how to sew, cook, and weave. Boys would live with their mothers until they were about five years old, then they would live in the qasgiq. Each winter, from anywhere between three to six weeks, the young boys and young girls would switch, with the men teaching the girls survival and hunting skills and toolmaking and the women teaching the boys how to sew and cook.

In Yup'ik group dances individuals often remain stationary while moving their upper body and arms rhythmically, their gestures accentuated by hand held dance fans very similar to Cherokee dance fans. The limited motion by no means limits the expressiveness of the dances, which can be gracefully flowing, bursting with energy, or wryly humorous.

The Yup'ik are unique among native peoples of the Americas in that children are named after the last person in the community to have died.


The common ancestors of Eskimos and Aleuts (as well as various Paleo-Siberian groups) are believed by archaeologists to have their origin in eastern Siberia, arriving in the Bering Sea area about 10,000 years ago.[7] Research on blood types suggests that the ancestors of American Indians reached North America before the ancestors of the Eskimos and Aleuts, and that there were several waves of migration from Siberia to the Americas by way of the Bering land bridge.[8] which became exposed between 20,000 and 8,000 years ago during periods of glaciation. By about 3,000 years ago the progenitors of the Yupiit had settled along the coastal areas of what would become western Alaska, with migrations up the coastal rivers—notably the Yukon and Kuskokwim—around 1400 C.E., eventually reaching as far upriver as Paimiut on the Yukon and Crow Village on the Kuskokwim.[5]


The five Yupik languages (related to Inuktitut) are still very widely spoken, with more than 75% of the Yupik/Yup'ik population fluent in the language.

The Alaskan and Siberian Yupik, like the Alaskan Inupiat, adopted the system of writing developed by Moravian Church missionaries during the 1760s in Greenland. The Alaskan Yupik and Inupiat are the only Northern indigenous peoples to have developed their own system of hieroglyphics, a system that died with its inventors.[9]

Through a confusion among Russian explorers in the 1800s, the Yupik people bordering the territory of the somewhat unrelated Aleuts were erroneously called Aleuts, or Alutiiq, in Yupik. This term has remained in use to the present day, along with another term, Sugpiaq, which both refer to the Yupik of Southcentral Alaska and Kodiak.

The whole Eskimo–Aleut family, and also all Alaskan languages are shown. Available online.[2] Here is a wikified version of the mentioned tree (restricted to the Eskimo–Aleut family):

Some differences may exist in the terminology or in the details of the classification in comparison to the main article.

See also


  1. ^ Video about Yupik communities on St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea
  2. ^ a b c Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07). "Central Alaskan Yup'ik." University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  3. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. (2004-06-30). "Table 1. American Indian and Alaska Native Alone and Alone or in Combination Population by Tribe for the United States: 2000." American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States (PHC-T-18). U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, special tabulation. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  4. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. (2004-06-30). "Table 16. American Indian and Alaska Native Alone and Alone or in Combination Population by Tribe for Alaska: 2000." American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States (PHC-T-18). U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, special tabulation. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  5. ^ a b Fienup-Riordan, 1993, p. 10.
  6. ^ Jacobson, Steven A. Central Yup’ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers. Juneau: Alaska Native Language Center, 1984. page 5
  7. ^ Naske and Slotnick, 1987, p. 18.
  8. ^ Naske and Slotnick, 1987, pp. 9–10.
  9. ^ "The Inuktitut Language" in Project Naming, the identification of Inuit portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives Canada


  • Barker, James H. (1993). Always Getting Ready — Upterrlainarluta: Yup'ik Eskimo Subsistence in Southwest Alaska. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Branson, John and Tim Troll, eds. (2006). Our Story: Readings from Southwest Alaska — An Anthology. Anchorage, AK: Alaska Natural History Association.
  • Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska. (1968). Alaska Natives & The Land. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1983). The Nelson Island Eskimo: Social Structure and Ritual Distribution. Anchorage, AK: Alaska Pacific University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1990). Eskimo Essays: Yup'ik Lives and How We See Them. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1991). The Real People and the Children of Thunder: The Yup'Ik Eskimo Encounter With Moravian Missionaries John and Edith Kilbuck. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1994). Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual in Yup'ik Eskimo Oral Tradition. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1996). The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks: Agayuliyararput (Our Way of Making Prayer). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (2000). Hunting Tradition in a Changing World: Yup'ik Lives in Alaska Today. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (2001). What's in a Name? Becoming a Real Person in a Yup'ik Community. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Jacobson, Steven A., compiler. (1984). Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary. Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
  • Jacobson, Steven A. "Central Yup’ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers." Juneau: Alaska Native Language Center, 1984.
  • Kizzia, Tom. (1991). The Wake of the Unseen Object: Among the Native Cultures of Bush Alaska. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • MacLean, Edna Ahgeak. “Culture and Change for Iñupiat and Yupiks of Alaska.” 2004. Alaska. 12 Nov 2008 <http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/workshop/citmla.htm>.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Morgan, Lael, ed. (1979). Alaska's Native People. Alaska Geographic 6(3). Alaska Geographic Society.
  • Naske, Claus-M. and Herman E. Slotnick. (1987). Alaska: A History of the 49th State, 2nd edition. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Oswalt, Wendell H. (1967). Alaskan Eskimos. Scranton, PA: Chandler Publishing Company.
  • Oswalt, Wendell H. (1990). Bashful No Longer: An Alaskan Eskimo Ethnohistory, 1778–1988. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Pete, Mary. (1993). "Coming to Terms." In Barker, 1993, pp. 8–10.
  • Reed, Irene, et al. Yup’ik Eskimo Grammar. Alaska: U of Alaska, 1977.
  • de Reuse, Willem J. (1994). Siberian Yupik Eskimo: The language and its contacts with Chukchi. Studies in indigenous languages of the Americas. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. ISBN 0-87480-397-7.

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