Central Alaskan Yup'ik people

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This article is about the people of southwestern Alaska. For other uses of the name, see Yupik.
"Cup'ik" redirects here. For other uses, see Cup'ik (disambiguation).
Yup'ik, Cup'ig, Cup'ik
(Central Alaskan Yup'ik)
Left: Chuck Hunt (1944-2000), USFWS employee. Right: A Nunivak Cup'ig man with raven maskette, Nunivak Island, 1929.
Total population
24,000 (2000 U.S. Census)
Regions with significant populations
Central Alaskan Yup'ik (and dialects: Chevak Cup’ik, Nunivak Cup'ig), English
Christianity and Shamanism
Related ethnic groups
Other Yupik peoples (Siberian Yupik, Alutiiq, Naukan), Inuit, Aleut

The Yup'ik people (also Central Alaskan Yup'ik, plural Yupiit), are an Eskimo people of western and southwestern Alaska ranging from southern Norton Sound southwards along the coast of the Bering Sea on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (including living on Nelson and Nunivak Islands) and along the northern coast of Bristol Bay as far east as Nushagak Bay and the northern Alaska Peninsula at Naknek River and Egegik Bay.

They are one of the four Yupik peoples of Alaska and Siberia, closely related to the Alutiiq (Pacific Yupik) of southcentral Alaska, the Siberian Yupik of St. Lawrence Island and Russian Far East, and the Naukan of Russian Far East. The Yupiit speak the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language.[1] The people of Nunivak Island, speakers of the Nunivak Island dialect of Central Alaskan Yup'ik, call themselves Cup'ig (plural Cup'it); the people of Hooper Bay and Chevak, speakers of the Hooper Bay-Chevak dialect, call themselves Cup'ik (plural Cup'it).

Yupiit are the most numerous of the various Alaska Native groups and speak the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the Yupiit population in the United States numbered over 24,000,[2] of whom over 22,000 lived in Alaska, the vast majority in the seventy or so communities in the traditional Yup'ik territory of western and southwestern Alaska.[3]

Etymology of name[edit]

Yup'ik (plural Yupiit) comes from the Yup'ik word yuk meaning "person" plus the postbase -pik meaning "real" or "genuine"; thus, Yup'ik literally means "real people".[4] The ethnographic literature sometimes refers to the Yup'ik people or their language as Yuk or Yuit. In the Hooper Bay-Chevak and Nunivak dialects of Yup'ik, both the language and the people are given the name Cup'ik.[1]

The use of an apostrophe in the name "Yup'ik", compared to Siberian "Yupik", exemplifies the Central Yup'ik's orthography, where "the apostrophe represents gemination [or lengthening] of the 'p' sound".[5]


The common ancestors of Eskimos and Aleuts (as well as various Paleo-Siberian groups) are believed by archaeologists to have their origin in eastern Siberia, arriving in the Bering Sea area about 10,000 years ago.[6] Research on blood types suggests that the ancestors of American Indians reached North America before the ancestors of the Eskimos and Aleuts, and that there were several waves of migration from Siberia to the Americas by way of the Bering land bridge,[7] which became exposed between 20,000 and 8,000 years ago during periods of glaciation. By about 3,000 years ago the progenitors of the Yupiit had settled along the coastal areas of what would become western Alaska, with migrations up the coastal rivers—notably the Yukon and Kuskokwim—around 1400 C.E., eventually reaching as far upriver as Paimiut on the Yukon and Crow Village on the Kuskokwim.[4]

Regional groups[edit]

Cup'ik kayak stanchions, collection of the University of Alaska Museum of the North
Hooper Bay youth, 1930

Prior to and during the mid-19th century, the time of Russian exploration and presence in the area, the Yupiit were organized into at least twelve, and perhaps as many as twenty, territorially distinct regional groups tied together by kinship[8][9] — hence the Yup'ik word tungelquqellriit, meaning "those who share ancestors (are related)".[9] These groups included:

  • Unalirmiut (Unaligmiut), inhabiting the Norton Sound area.[10][11][12] The name derives from the Yup'ik word Unaliq, denoting a Yup'ik from the Norton Sound area, especially the north shore villages of Elim and Golovin and the south shore villages of Unalakleet and St. Michael. Unalirmiut were speakers of the Norton Sound Unaliq subdialect of Yup'ik.[13]
  • Pastulirmiut, inhabiting the mouth of Yukon River.[10] The name derives from Pastuliq, the name of an abandoned village of southern Norton Sound near the present-day village of Kotlik at one of the mouths of the Yukon River. The village name comes from the root paste- meaning to become set in a position (for instance, a tree bent by the wind).[13] Pastulirmiut were speakers of the Norton Sound Kotlik subdialect of Yup'ik, and are also called pisalriit (sing. pisalria) denoting their use of this subdialect in which s is used in many words where other speakers of Yup'ik use y.[13]
  • Kuigpagmiut (Ikogmiut), inhabiting the Lower Yukon River.[10][12] The name derives from Kuigpak, meaning "big river", the Yup'ik name for the Yukon River.[13]
  • Marayarmiut (Mararmiut, Maarmiut, Magemiut), inhabiting the Scammon Bay area.[10][11][12] The name derives from Marayaaq, the Yup'ik name for Scammon Bay, which in turn derives from maraq, meaning "marshy, muddy lowland". Mararmiut, deriving from the same word, denotes flatland dwellers in general living between the mouth of the Yukon and Nelson Island.[13]
  • Askinarmiut, inhabiting the area of the present-day villages of Hooper Bay and Chevak.[10] Askinarmiut is an old name for the village of Hooper Bay. (DCED).
  • Qaluyaarmiut (Kaialigamiut, Kayaligmiut), inhabiting Nelson Island.[10][11][12] The name derives from Qaluyaaq, the Yup'ik name for Nelson Island, which derives in turn from qalu, meaning "dipnet".[13]
  • Akulmiut, inhabiting the tundra or "Big Lake" area north of the Kuskokwim River.[10][11] The name denotes people living on the tundra — as opposed to those living along the coastline or major rivers — such as in the present-day villages of Nunapitchuk, Kasigluk, or Atmautluak. The name derives from akula meaning "midsection", "area between", or "tundra".[13]
  • Caninermiut, inhabiting the lower Bering Sea coast on either side of Kuskokwim Bay, including the area north of the bay where the modern-day villages of Chefornak, Kipnuk, Kongiganek, Kwigillingok are located and south of the bay where the villages of and Eek and Quinhagak are located (Goodnews Bay?).[10][11][12] The name derives from canineq, meaning "lower coast", which derives in turn from the root cani, "area beside".[13]
  • Nunivaarmiut (Nuniwarmiut, Nuniwagamiut), inhabiting Nunivak Island.[10][11] The name derives from Nunivaaq, the name for the island in the General Central dialect of Yup'ik.[13] In the Nunivak dialect of Yup'ik (that is, in Cup'ig), the island's name is Nuniwar and the people are called Nuniwarmiut.[14]
  • Kusquqvagmiut (Kuskowagamiut), inhabiting the Lower and middle Kuskokwim River.[10][11][12][15] The name derives from Kusquqvak, the Yup'ik name for the Kuskokwim River, possibly meaning "a big thing (river) with a small flow".[13] The Kusquqvagmiut can be further divided into two groups:
    • Unegkumiut, inhabiting the Lower Kuskokwim below Bethel to its mouth in Kuskowkim Bay.[12][16] The word derives from unegkut, meaning "those downriver";[13] hence, "downriver people".
    • Kiatagmiut, inhabiting inland regions in the upper drainages of the Kuskowkim, Nushagak, Wood, and Kvichak river drainages.[10][11][12][15] The word derives probably from kiani, meaning "inside" or "upriver";[13] hence, "upriver people". The Kiatagmiut lived inland along the Kuskokwim River drainage from the present location of Bethel to present-day Crow Village and the vicinity of the 19th century Russian outpost Kolmakovskii Redoubt. By the mid-19th century, many Kiatagmiut had migrated to the drainage of the Nushagak River.[17]
  • Tuyuryarmiut (Togiagamiut), inhabiting the Togiak River area.[11][12][15] The word derives from Tuyuryaq, the Yup'ik name for the village of Togiak.[13]
  • Aglurmiut (Aglegmiut), inhabiting the Bristol Bay area along the Lower Nushagak River and northern Alaska Peninsula.[10][11][12][15] The word derives from agluq, meaning "ridgepole" or "center beam of a structure".[13]

While Yupiit were nomadic, the abundant fish and game of the Y-K Delta and Bering Sea coastal areas permitted for a more settled life than for the many of the more northerly Inuit peoples. Under normal conditions, there was little need for interregional travel, as each regional group had access to enough resources within its own territory to be completely self-sufficient. However, fluctuations in animal populations or weather conditions sometimes necessitated travel and trade between regions.[8]

Notable Central Alaskan Yup'ik people[edit]

  • Uyaquq (Helper Neck), (ca. 1860–1924), Moravian helper, author, translator, and inventor of a Yup'ik writing system[18]

See also[edit]

  • Kevgiq (Messenger Feast)
  • Qasgi (men's community house)


  1. ^ a b Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07). "Central Alaskan Yup'ik." University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  2. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. (2004-06-30). "Table 1. American Indian and Alaska Native Alone and Alone or in Combination Population by Tribe for the United States: 2000." American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States (PHC-T-18). U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, special tabulation. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  3. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. (2004-06-30). "Table 16. American Indian and Alaska Native Alone and Alone or in Combination Population by Tribe for Alaska: 2000." American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States (PHC-T-18). U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, special tabulation. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  4. ^ a b Fienup-Riordan, 1993, p. 10.
  5. ^ Jacobson, Steven A. Central Yup'ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers. Juneau: Alaska Native Language Center, 1984. page 5
  6. ^ Naske and Slotnick, 1987, p. 18.
  7. ^ Naske and Slotnick, 1987, pp. 9–10.
  8. ^ a b Fienup-Riordan, 1993, p. 29.
  9. ^ a b Pete, 1993, p. 8.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fienup-Riordan, 1990, p. 154, "Figure 7.1. Regional groupings for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, circa 1833."
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oswalt, 1967, pp. 5-9. See also Map 2, "Aboriginal Alaskan Eskimo tribes", insert between pp. 6 and 7.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oswalt, 1990, p. ii, "The Kusquqvagmiut area and the surrounding Eskimo and Indian populations" (map).
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Jacobson, 1984.
  14. ^ NPT, Inc. (2004-08-24). "We are Cup'it." Mekoryuk, AK: Nuniwarmiut Piciryarata Tamaryalkuti (Nunivak Cultural Programs). Retrieved on 2004-04-14.
  15. ^ a b c d Branson and Troll, 2006, p. xii. Map 3, "Tribal areas, villages and linguistics around 1818, the time of contact."
  16. ^ Oswalt, 1990, p. 12.
  17. ^ Oswalt, 1990, pp. 13–14.
  18. ^ "List of resources with contributor: Uyaquq (Helper Neck)." UAF: Alaska Native Language Archive. Accessed 6 Feb 2014.


  • Barker, James H. (1993). Always Getting Ready — Upterrlainarluta: Yup'ik Eskimo Subsistence in Southwest Alaska. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Branson, John and Tim Troll, eds. (2006). Our Story: Readings from Southwest Alaska — An Anthology. Anchorage, AK: Alaska Natural History Association.
  • Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska. (1968). Alaska Natives & The Land. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1983). The Nelson Island Eskimo: Social Structure and Ritual Distribution. Anchorage, AK: Alaska Pacific University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1990). Eskimo Essays: Yup'ik Lives and Howe We See Them. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1991). The Real People and the Children of Thunder: The Yup'Ik Eskimo Encounter With Moravian Missionaries John and Edith Kilbuck. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1994). Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual in Yup'ik Eskimo Oral Tradition. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1996). The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks: Agayuliyararput (Our Way of Making Prayer). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (2000). Hunting Tradition in a Changing World: Yup'ik Lives in Alaska Today. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (2001). What's in a Name? Becoming a Real Person in a Yup'ik Community. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Jacobson, Steven A., compiler. (1984). Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary. Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
  • Jacobson, Steven A. "Central Yup'ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers". Juneau: Alaska Native Language Center, 1984.
  • Kizzia, Tom. (1991). The Wake of the Unseen Object: Among the Native Cultures of Bush Alaska. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • MacLean, Edna Ahgeak. "Culture and Change for Iñupiat and Yupiks of Alaska". 2004. Alaska. 12 Nov 2008 [1].
  • Morgan, Lael, ed. (1979). Alaska's Native People. Alaska Geographic 6(3). Alaska Geographic Society.
  • Naske, Claus-M. and Herman E. Slotnick. (1987). Alaska: A History of the 49th State, 2nd edition. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Oswalt, Wendell H. (1967). Alaskan Eskimos. Scranton, PA: Chandler Publishing Company.
  • Oswalt, Wendell H. (1990). Bashful No Longer: An Alaskan Eskimo Ethnohistory, 1778–1988. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Pete, Mary. (1993). "Coming to Terms". In Barker, 1993, pp. 8–10.
  • Reed, Irene, et al. Yup'ik Eskimo Grammar. Alaska: U of Alaska, 1977.