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Yupik Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Yup'ik tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Yup'ik website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Yup'ik pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Yup'ik Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Yup'ik"? What does it mean?
Yup'ik is pronounced "yoop-eek." This means "real person" in their own language. They are also known as the Cup'ik (choop-eek), which is the same word in a different dialect of their language.

What about "Eskimos"? Is that an offensive word or not?
It depends who you ask. Some Arctic Native people consider it insulting, while others use it themselves. In particular, many Yup'iq people use "Eskimo" to refer to general cultural traits they share with other Arctic peoples like the Alutiiq, Aleut, and Inuit. It is definitely not a word from their own language, though. It was originally a name used by Algonquian people for the Inuit people of eastern Canada. It may have come from a word for "eaters of raw flesh," or it may have come from a word for "snowshoe lacers." Here's an article about that.

Where do the Yupiks live?
The Yup'ik are original people of southwestern Alaska. There are also a few Yup'ik communities in the far east of what is now Russia. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Yup'ik lands.

How is the Yup'ik nation organized?
The Yup'ik do not have reservations. Like most Alaska Natives, they live in Native villages instead. Yup'ik Native villages are independent from one another, but they have formed coalitions with some of their neighbors, called the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Calista Corporation, which handle tribal government and land management on behalf of all the Yup'ik villages.

In the past, the Yup'ik had a very loose style of government. There were no Yup'ik chiefs or political leaders-- Yup'ik communities were normally guided by clan leaders, and sometimes banded together under the temporary leadership of a war commander. Today, Yup'ik villages are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected by all the residents of the village.

What language do the Yupiks speak?
Almost all Yupik people speak English today, but many Yupiks, especially elders, also speak their native Yup'ik language. Yup'ik is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Yup'ik word, "waqaa" (pronounced similar to wah-kaw) is a friendly greeting in Yup'ik. You can also read a Yup'ik picture dictionary here.

What was Yup'ik culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to an article about the Central Yup'ik Eskimos. There you can find information about Yup'ik people in the past and today.

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How do Yupik children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Yupik children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. Yupik mothers traditionally carried their babies in slings on their backs, tucked into the oversized hoods of their parkas.

What were Yupik homes like in the past?
The Yupiks lived in earth lodges, sometimes known as barabara or pit houses. A Yupik earth house was made by digging an underground chamber, raising a wooden frame over it, covering the frame with grass mats, and then packing the whole structure in layers of earth to insulate it. Because Yupik houses were partially underground, they appeared smaller than they actually were. Yupik men and women did not traditionally live in the same house. The men in each village usually lived together in one large house, and the women and children lived in smaller houses organized by family groups. Here are some pictures of pit houses like the ones the Yupiks used. Yup'ik people do not live in old-fashioned barabaras anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Yup'ik people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Yupik clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Yupik men and women both wore tunics, loose pants, and hooded parka coats. Most of their clothes were made out of caribou hide and sealskin. Yupik people also wore sealskin mittens and fur boots called mukluks. Here is a website on Native clothing styles.

The Yupiks didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Generally they wore hoods when they were outside, and went bare-headed indoors. For ceremonial occasions, Yupik women wore beaded dance headdresses like this. Yupik women often wore Native tribal tattoos. Both men and women wore shell jewelry in their pierced ears and noses.

Today, some Yupik people still wear mukluks or a parka, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of sealskin trousers... and they only wear fancy regalia at special occasions like a dance.

What was Yupik transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Yupiks used skin boats, known as kayaks or umiaks. These boats were made by stretching sealskins over a light wooden frame, and were known for their speed and maneuverability. They used these ships to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare. Here is a website of kayak pictures. Over land, the Yupik usually traveled by dogsled. Yupik sleds were light wooden frames pulled by teams of four or more dogs in rawhide harnesses. Sled dogs were a very important part of Yupik and other Eskimo culture. Today, of course, Yup'ik people also use cars... and non-native people also use kayaks.

What was Yupik food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Yupik were hunting people. Some Yupik communities relied on marine animals for their food. They hunted seals and walrus, caught fish, and sometimes even harpooned whales. But other Yupik people, who lived further inland, primarily hunted caribou and other land animals instead. The Yupik also gathered berries and other plants to supplement their diet. Here is a website with more information about Native food.

What were Yupik weapons and tools like in the past?
Yupik hunters primarily used bows and arrows, spears, and harpoons. Sometimes they caught birds by throwing bolas at them. Hunters would also wear goggles with horizontal eye slits to prevent snow-blindness. Yupik warriors usually shot at each other with their bows and arrows. Women used the uluaq, which was a kind of multipurpose fan-shaped knife. Here is a website of pictures and information about these various types of indigenous weapons.

What are Yupik arts and crafts like?
Yupik artists are known for their fine carvings, especially masks and ivory figurines. Here is an online museum exhibit of carved wooden Yup'ik masks.

What other Native Americans did the Yup'ik tribe interact with?
The Yupiks traded with other tribes of coastal Alaska, particularly the Aleut, Alutiiq, and Tlingit. The Yupiks had an especially close relationship with the Alutiiq. The languages of these two tribes are very close to each other, and the people sometimes intermarried.

What kinds of stories do the Yupiks tell?
There are lots of traditional Yup'ik legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Yup'ik culture. Here is one Yup'ik legend about Raven falling in love with a goose. Here's a website where you can read more about Yup'ik mythology.

What about Yup'ik religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Yup'ik life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Yup'ik people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Yup'ik religion or this site about indigenous religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Children of the Midnight Sun, an excellent book about the lives of contemporary Alaska Native children. One of the eight children profiled is Yup'ik. For younger readers, Berry Magic is a charming picture book based on a Yup'ik folktale and narrated by a Yup'ik elder. Older readers can learn more about Yup'ik culture and history from In Two Worlds: A Yu'pik Eskimo Family. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Yupik Eskimo people and their language!

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Learn More About The Yupik Tribe

Yup'ik Tribe
An overview of the Yupik Eskimos, their language and history.

Yupik Language Resources
Yupik language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Yupik Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Yupik Native Americans past and present.

Yupik Words
Native Yupik vocabulary lists.

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