The Oxford English Dictionary defines Eskimo as "(1) a member of a people inhabiting northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and eastern Siberia; and (2) any of the languages of this people," but adds a caveat on usage that "in Canada, and increasingly, elsewhere the term Inuit is used to refer to Canadian Eskimos and Eskimos more generally. The term Eskimo may offend some people." The earliest recorded use of the word Eskimos in English is in Richard Hakluyt's essay about colonizing eastern North America, Discourse on
Western Planting, which was written in 1584, but published more widely in 1877. More accurately, Hakluyt used the spelling Esquimawes to describe the people living around "graunde Bay" on the northern shores of the Gulf of St Lawrence, although Hakluyt's source for the word is unknown.
Many scholars have argued that Eskimo originates from an Algonquian language spoken by Indians living in eastern Canada and, as its meaning has been assumed to be "eaters of raw flesh," it has been argued that the term was applied as a derogatory term of reference. William Thalbitzer, the Danish linguist and ethnographer, considered the origin of Eskimo to lie in the missionary activities of Jesuit priests in eastern Canada, and thought it likely that the term derived from Excomminquois (excommunicated), as a term applied to a pagan people living to the north of the Indian areas the priests were working in. Wendell Oswalt notes that, since Esquimawes was first used by Hakluyt in 1584 and as the Jesuits did not begin their missionizing activities until 1605, it would appear that the Algonquian origins of Eskimo are more probable. Indeed, the perception of Eskimos as "eaters of raw flesh" entered the popular consciousness and became the standard meaning in the Oxford English and Webster's New World dictionaries. David Damas (1984), however, argues that the ultimate origin of Eskimo is a Montagnais form ayassime'w, meaning "snowshore-netter," and that "eaters of raw flesh" fits only Proto-Alqonquian forms, which are not the correct source of the word itself.
Although the way the Montagnais word developed into the English and French is uncertain, Damas suggests that the inclusion of a Spanish form, esquimaos, in a Basque historical document on Basque whaling in the Strait of Belle Isle written by Lopi di Isasti in 1625 is significant. Gran Baya (Grand Bay), or the Strait of Belle Isle, was a major landmark in the records of the Basque whalers, and "graunde Bay" was the place Hakluyt located the Esquimawes, while Samuel Champlain's 1632 map used the first French reference to Esquimaux, who were located near "la grande baye," at the western end of the Strait of Belle Isle. Esquimaux became the most common English spelling in early usage, which was the same as the French plural (although Esquimau was the French singular, Esquimaux was used in English as singular, plural, and attributive).
Other English terms for Eskimo, suggesting a borrowing from Cree forms, are found in the 1749 account of James Isham, an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company (Damas, 1984). Isham records Cree words referring to the inhabitants of the west coast of Hudson Bay, such as Ehuskemay, Iskemay, Uskemau's, and Uskemaws. Hudson's Bay Company employees and coastal whalers used another term,
Huskemaw and its shortened form Husky (or Huskies), to describe the peoples of Hudson Bay in the 19th century based on these 18th-century forms and William Dall's (1877) assertion that Husky was a self-appellation used by these groups. It is important to note, however, that Dall also used Inuit, which he spelled as Innuit, as a general term (Damas, 1984).
Inuit as a more general term of reference was adopted by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) an NGO representing the rights and interests of all Inuit) in 1977 in preference to the term Eskimo. Throughout Canada and Greenland, Inuit has replaced Eskimo. Inuit means "the people" (singular "inuk"; person) and is often applied generally across the Arctic to refer to Eskimo-speaking peoples, in part because of the (possibly erroneous) belief in the pejorative and derogatory meaning of Eskimo, but also because of the political assertion of rights and the movements for self-government that arose across the North American Arctic from the 1960s. However, this common usage obscures the diversity of Inuit groups, and the variety of local usages for self-designation, who are known as Kalaallit, Inughuit, and Iit in west, northwest, and east Greenland; Inuit and Inuvialuit in Canada; Inupiaq, Yup'ik, and Alutiiq in Alaska; and Yupik in Siberia. Confusion also arises over the use of Eskimo because archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and linguists often refer to Eskimo cultures, Eskimo peoples, and Eskimo-Aleut languages. In this sense, archaeologists may use Eskimo (or Paleo-Eskimo) to distinguish Eskimoan groups such as the Independence I, Pre-Dorset, Dorset, and Thule cultures from the historic Inuit, who are the inheritors of much of the Thule culture.
See also Alutiit; Eskimo-Aleut Languages; Eski-mology; Inuit, Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC); Inupiat; Inuvialuit; Siberian (Chukotkan) Yupik; Thule Culture
Dall, William, "Tribes of the Extreme Northwest." in Contributions to North American Ethnology Volume 1, edited by John W. Powell, Washington: US Government Printing Service, 1877, pp. 1—6 Damas, David, Handbook of North American Indians, Volume
5, Arctic, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1984 Oswalt, Wendell H., Eskimos and Explorers, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999
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