That’s not my name

14 Mar

The term “Eskimo” was once used to refer to the indigenous peoples who lived in the circumpolar regions of Greenland, Canada, the United States, and Siberia. However, the term has fallen out of favor, particularly in Greenland and Canada.  But what exactly does it mean?

That’s a difficult question and the answer depends upon whom you ask. What is consistent is that the etymology comes from the Montagnais language, the language of the indigenous peoples who settled in the mountains of Northern Canada.

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Robert Hale Ives Goddard, curator emeritus of Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, claims Eskimo comes from the Montagnais assime·w, meaning “one who nets snowshoes.”

Jose Mailhot, an anthropologist out of Quebec, suggests it has a different meaning. She traces it to the Montagnais ayaxkyimewa, meaning “speaks the language of a foreign land.”

There is also a widespread perception that the word comes from the Algonquian askamiciw meaning “eats something raw.”  This is thought to refer to the practice of eating uncooked fish and seal. And while a majority of academic linguists do not agree with this meaning, the word is still seen as pejorative in Greenland and Canada.

So, how should you refer to people from this region of the world? Consider using their own term, Inuit, meaning “people.” It is the plural of inuk, meaning “man.”

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