You will notice that I use the term Eskimo in this blog. No, it’s not because I’m an insensitive jerk who prefers to use derogatory terms for people. It is because in Alaska, where I grew up and where the languages that fascinate me reside, Inuit is not preferred over Eskimo.
In Canada, the term Inuit is preferred over Eskimo, which is considered offensive. What many people do not know is that using the term Inuit as a blanket term for all arctic people in Alaska is offensive – the opposite of the situation in Canada. Why? Because there are two main groups of arctic people in Alaska, the Yupik and the Iñupiat. The Yupik peoples are Eskimo but not Inuit. Quite understandably, they don’t like being called Inuit because they aren’t Inuit (and the word doesn’t even exist in Yupik languages). This means that it’s better to call arctic Alaskans Eskimos, not Inuit – or better yet, call them Yupik if they are Yupik, Iñupiat if they are Iñupiat, Cup’ik if they are Cup’ik, and so on.
So, to sum it up:
- Canada: Inuit
- United States (i.e., Alaska): Eskimo, which includes Yupik and Inuit peoples
- Greenland: Kalaallit (Inuit may be acceptable as well, but I simply don’t know)
- Russia: Eskimo (albeit in Russian, Эскимо). Mostly Yupik peoples, with the exception of Inuit on Big Diomede. Sirenikski may be separate from both Yupik and Inuit (hat tip to Anthony Woodbury).
Also, the name of the language family encompassing their languages is Eskimo-Aleut. Within Eskimo, there’s a division between Yupik and Inuit languages, much like the division between the cultural groups. Replacing Eskimo-Aleut with *Inuit-Aleut would be incorrect.
Note: contrary to popular belief, there are also non-Eskimo indigenous peoples in Alaska: the Aleut (Unangan) as well as many different Native American groups. I’ve seen at least one popular American movie set in Southeast Alaska that called the local indigenous people Inuit – a gross error, because the peoples of that region are neither Iñupiat nor Yupik.