Is it bad to use the term “Eskimo”? I have come across a few people – mostly random people online – who say that the name of my food blog is inappropriate, racist, oppressive or derogatory. But, is the term “Eskimo” really all that? Lets dive deeper into this..
Many people would simply say yes, because they were taught that it was rude to refer to native Americans as Eskimos. First of, it´s nice that people speak up when they think they see or hear something derogatory online or in person. But this is simply not the case at all. Let me explain it to you.
If you’d call a native American that wasn't from the north an “Eskimo”, I would understand that they’d find it offensive, since they actually don’t belong in that group at all. But for the native people that actually do come from the very northern hemisphere in America; Greenland, North of Canada, Alaska and Russia, all fall under the broad group called “Eskimo”.
This includes the groups of the Inuit, Iñupiat, Yupik and sometimes also the Aleut. It’s simply a terminology used to categorize all these groups into one.
Like the terminology British includes smaller groups of Welsh, Scottish and English, a term stemming from the name of the islands, The British Isles.
- Eskimo, a term including smaller groups.
- British, a term including smaller groups.
But, then you’d probably say: “But that means “Eater of raw meat”...”. Or something similar.. I have even heard that some people thought it meant “Eater of worms”, that’s the worst one. But... that’s not the case at all, it means neither of these.
I guess this misconception came into being since Inuits, Iñupiats, Yupik and Aleuts did indeed eat raw meat for many centuries to survive in the harsh northern climate back in the day. But still, the word itself does not mean “Eater of raw meat”. An Eskimo could also be vegan or vegetarian, gluten free or lactose intolerant, pescetarian, rawfoodie or on a paleo diet. What they eat has really nothing to do with the term.
Saying that “Eskimo” means “Eater of raw meat” because (some) of it’s population eats raw meat or used to eat raw meat, is like saying that “Irish” means “Eater of potato”, because many Irish people eat potatoes; or that “Italian” means “Eaters of pasta”, because they eat a lot of pasta. Irish and Italian are simply terms used for people belonging to a certain group of people, like Eskimo is a broad term used for grouping smaller groups of native people.
- Eskimo, the term does not show or include what they eat, it has nothing to do with it. Its simply a terminology
- Irish, the term does not show or include what they eat, it has nothing to do with it. Its simply a terminology
Who knows, there might exist people from Ireland that don’t eat potato, or people in Italy that don’t eat pasta. Like there also exists Eskimos that don’t eat raw meat, or even just meat or animal products in general, like me! In fact there’s many Eskimos that don’t eat meat, they even have a support group in Greenland here.
So what DOES “Eskimo” mean then? According to Wikipedia it’s a term the Algonquin tribe, a Canadian native tribe from the southern part of Canada, used to refer to the natives from the north.
- Algonquin: Ayas̆kimew - “A person who laces a snow shoe”.
- French: borrowed from Algonquin and made into a french word, Esquimaux.
- English: simplified from either French or Algonquin, Eskimo
Here's a map showing the regions of the Eskimos.
And here a photo showing the different tribes and groups of the Native Americans in North America.
There’s a big difference in between “Eater of raw meat” and “A person who laces a snowshoe”. Personally I don’t think that the original sentence / term is offensive. For many native tribes it was normal to give names that meant something, or just names that made sense as to what or who they referred to. In fact the term “Eskimo” was not made to be an offensive term in the first place.
This problem and the derogatory term first occurred when the Caucasian settlers of North America (the oppressors) made it into a problem. Linking the term “Eskimo” with “Eaters of raw meat”, “Eaters of worms” and who-knows-what-else they linked the term with, became a normal phrase, it became derogatory. They chose to make it derogatory. For no apparent reason, other than they did not like the natives - not just the ones in the north - anywhere in the Americas actually. That´s why they committed genocide on us.
Just saying the word “Eskimo” became a bad word and an actual insult, associated with people that were looked down upon. They MADE it into a bad word. It was used to suppress the natives of the north, they took a general term that was not offensive and made it offensive, it was made into a swear word so to say; misused.
Even the terms “Native” and “Indigenous” became derogatory, just because the native people in general were looked down upon. So all the right terms had been poisoned and misused by settlers, simply because the natives were seen as barbaric, less human and as wild uncivilized people.
Let me put that into perspective for you.
Imagine the Native American people were the settlers/oppressors. They looked down upon the English and French people. Then, just using the term English or French became a derogatory insult, simply because the Natives did not like the English or French. Now the Native Americans have convinced the English and French that their own terms are bad, this happened through social conditioning over many generations, while also having a genocide on them and putting them in small reserves, because they were a people that were looked down upon. Now the Native Americans have decided that the French and the Englishmen are not allowed to use their own terms for themselves. WHY? Because we we said so, we are in charge, times change and we have decided your normal terms are bad now, find other terms for yourself now! If you use these once normal terms for yourselves, we will now call you out on it and make you feel bad about it. DON´T EVER use English or French for anyone anymore, even if you are one.
It does sound silly right. It´s ridicolous.
- First oppression: making a normal term an insult.
- Second oppression / gas lighting: convincing the people that their own terms are bad through generations of social conditioning.
- Third oppression: not allowing the term to be used anymore. Because we said so!
Even today in the 21st century, 100’s of years after these terms were poisoned, the terms have become derogatory within the native communities. This is what social conditioning has done. The normal terms of referring to themselves could not even be used anymore. Native People in Canada and some places in Greenland don’t use the term “Eskimo” anymore (although they still do in Alaska and some of Greenland). Many tribes in Canada have special preferences of what they’d like to be called. Some tribes prefer:
- First Nation
- Indigenous People
- Native American
But some tribes really don´t like one or more of these terms, and just prefer one of them or something completely different, while the others are seen as offensive. So even within the native communities there’s is “bad terms” and preferred terms. This is what happens when normal terms become insults. What is okay to use in one local area, is not okay in another area. That´s because of social conditioning, not because the terms are bad, because none of them actually are. If they are "bad" it´s because the oppressors said so and convinced you so.
They are all just normal terms, they have just been poisoned and misused. Imagine Italians being ashamed of being called Italians? It’s hard to imagine, but this is actually what happened to the natives in America. The native’s terms for themselves were taken away from them, their identity were taken away from them. Much like what actually really happened. We saw it with natives being taken away from their lands and put in small reserves. Killed. Raped. Now they can’t even use their own terms for themselves. It’s sad really.
Do we really succumb to the first, second and third oppression? Or do we take back what is rightfully ours, educate people on these terms, the history and the right meaning of these terms?
Yes, I really think we should take the terms back and educate.
However, what has become normal nowadays is the term “Indian”, and many Caucasian people use it today, simply because they are afraid of using the wrong terms. It’s a touchy subject ... Can you say “Native” now? Or should you use “Indigenous”? It depends where you are, since different regions have different preferences, sigh! It’s all very confusing, hence the general term now has become “Indian”.
But, ironically, calling a Native American, an Eskimo, an Inuit, an Iñupiat or Yupik as an “Indian” is the worst offence !
We all know of the Great Columbus, who came and “discovered” the Americas (where there were already over 100 million people living). He is referred to as the person who discovered America as in the United States of America, and yet he didn’t even set foot on the land. He was looking for India, as in INDIA IN ASIA, to find a cheaper shipping route for spice. He got lost and ended up in the Caribbean. Also heard he weren’t such a great guy either, but that’s irrelevant to this story. So... believing he ended up in India, he ended up calling the natives “Indians” and the term stuck to this day.
Now that the correct terms; Eskimo, Native or Indigenous has been poisoned and wrongly used, they now use the even more wrong term, I wonder who came up with this, seriously: “Lets just call the natives “Indians” again shall we?”
We are not from India, haha ! We are from The Americas, we are the real Americans !
And don´t get me wrong, I know many people mean well when using the word “Indian” instead of “Native” or “Eskimo”, they don’t want to offend, and when you think about it that’s actually really nice. People are afraid of offending. But actually that’s exactly what they are doing, unknowingly, since we are obviously not Indians. This is all so backwards to me. It’s silly. Like Tom Green wearing his suit backwards in “Freddy Got Fingered”, singing “Backwards man.. Backwards man”.
See what I mean? All the right terms (Native, Indigenous, Eskimo etc etc) are now “wrong” to use and the only wrong term to use (Indian) is now the right one? And even the natives, the real Americans can’t agree either, because all their right terms have been poisoned and taken away from them by the oppressors, and they all prefer different terms. It’s all very confusing. Even for me, an Eskimo. Specially because I need to explain it a lot. Hence this article.
You might say that Native Americans in the north will be hurt by the use of the word, but is that not because they have been conditioned by society to feel that way about it? Yes. Why? Because they said so. Because they forced you to believe so, you grew up being told it was wrong.
Another example, as this is a vegan blog, I bet many people reading this post is vegan or aspiring to be one. You and me and probably most of the world, grew up believing you NEEDED meat to get protein and survive, and drink milk to strengthen your bones. Social conditioning. Just because someone says so, and you grew up being taught this, does not equal that it´s the truth. Same goes for this term. Eskimo is an okay term to use, set aside your cultural conditioning and open your mind to that it´s not wrong to use it.
And yes, there is hurt tied to the term, still to this day, depending on where you are located in Canada. Is the word thrown around in a manner that is supposed to sound derogatory and racist? Well, that´s not cool at all. I would be hurt by that too. But, is the word used with its right intention by a Native, like me? Or used by someone who can politely explain what it actually means and the story of why it´s not wrong? That´s okay. Be able to tell the difference, see in what context the word have been used in and with what attitude have been connected to it. I wish more people would know its true meaning, misconceptions are so bad, specially tied to terms from people, which terms have been taken away from them.
Basically, I wanna get our terms back ! Fortunately, some places the term "Eskimo" is getting a comeback. Even in Greenland is has become sort of a cute thing you say to each other, one Greenlandic Inuit to the other, hence the cute "Eskimo Kiss" with the tip of the noses touching. Even my Husband calls me his "Eskimo Princess", which I think is super damn cute! We gotta bring back those terms. They're NOT offensive, don't let the oppressors take those terms away from you if you are Native !
Here you can see simple (and NON OFFENSIVE) list of terms below, from a broad group to smaller groups in the north that categorizes where I belong:
- American, VERY broad regional term, includes the whole of North and South America
- North American, broad, the US, Canada and Greenland
- Eskimo, regional term for the people in northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia
- Inuit, Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut - The separate people groups within the "Eskimo" category
- Greenlandic - My specific regional term, that belongs to the Inuit group above, then Eskimo, North American and American
I AM a Greenlandic, an Inuit, an Eskimo, a North American and an American! And native people should know that these words are okay to use ! It’s who they actually are. Actually, they should use whatever term they like to be called, from whichever tribe they belong to and what they feel comfortable with. Like “Eskimo” is a real one for us in the north, and they should be able to use these terms if they feel good about them and know its true meaning.
And to every other non-native person trying to say the right term and don’t know what to say? Ask the person you’re with, would be interesting to hear their perspective and what term they prefer for themselves and why. Don’t be afraid to ask a Native person, it’s so much better than just saying “Indian”, because we are many people from different places and tribes, we are all different, and we should embrace that.
And, if they are socially conditioned to believe that their own terms are "bad terms", show them this article. Would be VERY interesting to get opinions on what Natives think of this information.
I hope you read this article with an open mind and have learned something new. Feel free to share this with people who might have interest in this.