Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Changing More Than The Name

Wikipedia has this to say about the naming of Eskimo peoples.
In Canada and Greenland the term Eskimo has fallen out of favor, is considered pejorative, and has been generally replaced by the term Inuit. However, while Inuit does correctly describe all of the Eskimo peoples in Canada and Greenland, that is not true in Alaska and Siberia. In Alaska the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik* (sic) and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat (which technically is Inuit). To date, no universally acceptable replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit andYupik people, has achieved acceptance across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.

Tonight I saw a public service announcement in which a young Yup'ik girl states that her Yup'ik heritage includes strength and the courage of her convictions (true) and that this heritage gives her the strength to hold with her traditional values. And then she said, "Sex can wait."

Now, I have no problem with sex can wait. I think it should wait a lot longer than it does for too many young girls. And I have no problem with a campaign to encourage young Yup'ik girls to wait. But I do have a problem with not being honest. And the thing is that waiting is not part of the Yup'ik tradition. I remember that when I was in Fairbanks in the late 60s there was concern about Yup'ik teens being sent out to boarding school** in the southwest, among tribes where the teens did wait. And the problem, I was told. with that was that the living conditions in their tradtitional bush villages were so harsh that a man could not afford to marry a woman who couldn't have children.*** And so, I was told, Yup'ik girls couldn't get married unless they were pregnant. And the Yup'ik girls were not waiting at boarding school, and so the students from other tribes were calling them pejorative names and treating them poorly.

So, if pregnancy is required, how do you get there if you wait? And isn't it a little dishonest to sell young Yup'ik teens on the idea of waiting by claiming it is part of a tradition that it absolutely couldn't be part of?

* Yup'ik is the correct spelling, which I now know thanks to ykalaska.
** Pretty much all Native American kids were sent to boarding school during those days.
*** As with many traditional societies, social security was descendants to take care of you in your old age. If a woman couldn't have children, or if a couple couldn't have children together, they would be less secure.

Russell W. Porter
"Eskimo Girl" Umanak, Greenland, 1896, Watercolor


J at www.jellyjules.com said...

It's crazy what is done in the name of 'traditional values', without even looking at whether those things are traditional, or even of value.

Rain said...

We are in such a dishonest culture but maybe it's the nature of mankind to reinterpret history to suit his newest ideas. It's sure frustrating though

ykalaska said...

Actually, Yup'ik is the correct spelling. The stop (indicated by the ') goes after the first syllable "yup" and the ik is like a suffix.

Inupiat has a tilde over the n or ñ . Both words are difficult for the internet to search on. And getting that tilde requires typing code to fool the html e.g.,