Saturday, September 06, 2008


I'll write something better tomorrow about my feelings about my anniversary, but for now I'm tired and cranky and wondering something.

I was pretty shocked to see this word used to describe the Republican VP's husband, and figured it must be because US media types had no idea how ignorant it is. I assumed that they have rarely met a first Nations person or perhaps knew nothing about the policy issues. Supposedly Presidents and politicians in the US rarely bother with aboriginal issues, and it certainly doesn't appear anywhere in their policy platforms. And then Palin used it herself, to describe her own husband, and seriously, I just about fell over right there and then. Using "that word" to describe any First Nations person here, would be an automatic death sentence for a politician. It's not quite the n-word--but it's not okay.

Turns out that in Alaska, Wikipedia says it's not a big deal. Are they right? Here we say Inuit, and the equivalent first nation there would be Yupik, but the term Alaska Native also might fit.

So what's up dudes? How did a word the rest of the world thinks is disgusting and pejorative become so normal in the US?

Do any of my US readers know about aboriginal issues and terms? Are any of you native? Have you ever seen a reservation, or a reserve? I am really really curious about this.


  1. From what I can tell, it's the word they like to use to describe themselves. I can't tell them they're wrong.

    Megan (from the Canadian Arctic)

  2. I have never heard that it's derogatory...but I would think that if it is in most of the world, they should have maybe done their homework and used an alternative word.

  3. My husband is from Alaska, but he is not Native Alaskan (as opposed to Alaska Native, which is not the term used). The term is used there often, and not necessarily just by the white folks. My husband feels using the phrase "Yupik Eskimo" is not racist, but if you were to refer to all Native Alaskan groups as Eskimo, while it wouldn't necessarily be racist, it's incorrect and uninformed.

    The Native groups in Alaska sometimes use the word as a way to describe themselves. It's used in conjunction with tribal names such as Yupik, Inupiat, Alutiq, etc. So I wouldn't presume to tell them they should be offended by it.

    As an American, I have been on reservations in the Southwest, and it really depends on where you are, they are all different from each other, some are quite economically depressed, others are a lot like small town America. Alaska does not have reservations, it has Native Corporations that own land.

  4. Interesting. I never know what to think of these things. If that is how he identifies himself then I suppose my we can hold a graduate seminar the appropriateness and history of the term but what's the point? I'm sure Pedagogy of the Oppressed would have been on Palin's book banning list anyway.

    One time in undergrad an African- American stand up comic was performing in our bar. He used the n-word and the crowd went, and stayed, silent for the rest of the show. Recognising this he became more and more offensive and commenting on how uptight we were.

    So as a white, middle-class canadian I can only sit here and laugh at the thought of any of our politicians calling someone an Eskimo!

  5. In England I would be pretty surprised if someone said Inuit rather than Eskimo. From the sound of things that would be plain wrong if the person came from Alaska in any event and we would be suffering from a misplaced sense of political correctness. Most of what we know about aboriginal issues here relates to Australia and NZ so the nuances of naming arctic peoples definitely pass us by.

    If he is OK with it then I think he and his wife should be allowed to say it.

  6. Oh, I'd never tell anyone what to call themselves---I'm just trying to picture the first time she meets with a Canadian politician and they have to figure out the appropriate terminology.

    Because even if it's okay to say it in Alaska, any politician here who said it would be toast....

  7. I grew up in Alaska and I would never refer to anyone as an "eskimo". That said, I lived in a different part of Alaska (the southeastern arm that borders BC). In our area we used the term Native Alaskan or more specifically used their particular group such as Haida, Tlingit, etc.

    But I know I have heard differently about more northern Native Alaskan groups, so I can't say whether or not it is considered appropriate or not. I certainly would never use it unless given express permission, and even then not publicly just in case someone else objected to the term. I would assume since it is her husband that he is okay with it though...

  8. I noticed that & wondered too! I think the Canadian newspapers have described him as Inuit.

    I grew up in small towns in Saskatchewan & Manitoba, many of them near reservations & native communities. I went to school with lots of native & Metis kids. It was eye opening in many respects... both good & bad. I think I will leave it at that...!

  9. I noticed it too, but I am an academic who has been heavily trained. I thought it was weird and maybe untrue (sooo many Americans say they're part native but aren't), but not necessarily offensive.

    I spent my summers on an Ojibwe reservation because of my complicated family background. Dad has enough enough in him to be a tribal member, but not me. The inappropriate might say Chippewa....

  10. My mom visiting from Vancouver BC almost died laughing at the mullet she had seen...seemingly quit the norm here too.

    Let's face it SP is bugging you in more than one way.
    I hope you get to the bottom of it all and make peace with it for yourself.

  11. I'm finding just about everything Palin says is offensive.

    That aside, it seems PC language in the US has come full circle over the last 2 decades. For a while, the terms "Indian" and "Eskimo" were offensive and "Native American" or "Alaska Native" respectively were used instead. Now, "American Indian" is the preferred term and "Eskimo" seems to be on the rebound. Likewise with "black" and "African-American" (black is freely used again).

    I would expect a politician to use the most PC term. But, you gotta consider the source, I guess. :)

  12. I knew that 'Inuit' was the correct word, and 'Eskimo' was technically not, but i didn't realize that 'Eskimo' was pejorative at all.

    Oh, yeah, i have a veritable obsession with Sarah Palin, as do a lot of us it seems. Talk about rubbing me the wrong way! I really really need to get past it and get some work done.