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Yup'ik, Cup'ig, Cup'ik
(Central Alaskan Yup'ik)
Total population
34,000 (2010 U.S. Census)
Regions with significant populations
United States
Yup'ik (and dialects: Cup'ik, Cup'ig), English, Russian
Christianity (Moravian Protestant, Jesuit Catholic, Russian Orthodox) and Shamanism
Related ethnic groups
Siberian Yupik, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq, Naukan, Iñupiat, Inuit, Aleut
A Nunivak Island Cup'ig man in 1929

The Yup'ik or Yupiaq (sg & pl) and Yupiit or Yupiat (pl), also Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Central Yup'ik, Alaskan Yup'ik (own name Yup'ik sg Yupiik dual Yupiit pl; Russian: Юпики центральной Аляски), are an Indigenous 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 also known as Cup'ik by the Chevak Cup'ik dialect-speaking people of Chevak and Cup'ig for the Nunivak Cup'ig dialect-speaking people of Nunivak Island.

Both Chevak Cup'ik and Nunivak Cup'ig people are also known as Cup'ik.[1] The Yup'ik, Cup'ik, and Cup'ig speakers can converse without difficulty, and the regional population is often described using the larger term of Yup'ik. They are one of the four Yupik peoples of Alaska and Siberia, closely related to the Sugpiaq ~ Alutiiq (Pacific Yupik) of south-central Alaska, the Siberian Yupik of St. Lawrence Island and Russian Far East, and the Naukan of Russian Far East. The Yupiit speak the Yup'ik language. Of a total population of about 21,000 people, about 10,000 speak the language.[2]

The Yup'ik combine a contemporary and a traditional subsistence lifestyle in a blend unique to the Southwest Alaska. Today, the Yup'ik generally work and live in western style but still hunt and fish in traditional subsistence ways and gather traditional foods. Most Yup'ik still speak the native language and bilingual education has been in force since the 1970s.

The 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,[3] of whom over 22,000 lived in Alaska. The vast majority of these live in the seventy or so communities in the traditional Yup'ik territory of western and southwestern Alaska.[4]

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the Yup'ik at 34,000 people is the largest Alaska Native tribal grouping, either alone or in combination, closely followed by the Inupiat (33,000). The Yup'ik had the greatest number of people who identified with one tribal grouping and no other race (29,000).[5] In that census, nearly half of American Indians and Alaska Natives identified as being of mixed race.

The neighbours of the Yup'ik are the Iñupiaq to the north, Aleutized Alutiiq ~ Sugpiaq to the south, and Alaskan Athabaskans, such as Yup'ikized Holikachuk and Deg Hit'an, non-Yup'ikized Koyukon and Dena'ina, to the east.[6]


Originally the form Yup'ik was used in the northern area (Norton Sound, Yukon, some Nelson Island) while the form Yupiaq was used in the southern area (Kuskokwim, Canineq [around Kwigillingok, Kipnuk, Kongiganek, and Chefornak], Bristol Bay). Certain places (Chevak, Nunivak, Egegik) had other forms (Cup'ik, Cup'ig, Tarupiaq).

The form Yup'ik is now used as a common term (though not replacing Cup'ik and Cup'ig).[7] Yup'ik (plural Yupiit) comes from the Yup'ik word yuk meaning "person" plus the postbase -pik or -piaq meaning "real" or "genuine"; thus, Yup'ik literally means "real people".[8] 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.[2]

The use of an apostrophe in the name "Yup'ik", compared to Siberian "Yupik", exemplifies the Central Yup'ik's orthography. "The apostrophe represents gemination [or lengthening] of the 'p' sound".[9]

The "person/people" (human being) and ethnic self name in the Yup'ik dialects
dialects singular dual plural singular dual plural
Unaliq-Pastuliq, Yukon, Nelson Island, Hooper Bay yuk yuuk yuut (< yuuget) ~ yug'et Yup'ik Yupiik Yupiit
Kuskokwim, Kwigillingok, Kipnuk, Kongiganek, Chefornak, Bristol Bay yuk yuuk yuut (< yuuget) ~ yug'et Yupiaq Yupiak Yupiat
Chevak cuk cuugek cuuget Cup'ik Cupiik Cupiit
Nunivak cug cuug cuuget Cup'ig Cupiig Cupiit
Egegik taru ~ taruq Tarupiaq Tarupiak Tarupiat

The names given to them by their neighbors:



The common ancestors of the Yupik and the Aleut (as well as various Paleo-Siberian groups) are believed by archaeologists to have their origin in eastern Siberia. Migrating east, they reached the Bering Sea area about 10,000 years ago.[10][11] Research on blood types and linguistics suggests that the ancestors of American Indians reached North America in waves of migration before the ancestors of the Eskimo and Aleut; there were three major waves of migration from Siberia to the Americas by way of the Bering land bridge.[12] This causeway 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 (Tulukarugmiut) on the Kuskokwim.[8]

Before a Russian colonial presence emerged in the area, the Aleut and Yupik spent most of their time sea-hunting animals such as seals, walruses, and sea lions. They used mainly wood, stone, or bone weapons and had limited experience fishing. Families lived together in large groups during the winter and split up into smaller huts during the summer.[13]

Russian Period[edit]

The Russian colonization of the Americas lasted from 1732 to 1867. The Russian Empire supported ships traveling from Siberia to America for whaling and fishing expeditions. Gradually the crews established hunting and trading posts of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company in the Aleutian Islands and northern Alaska indigenous settlements. (These were the basis for the Russian-American Company). Approximately half of the fur traders were Russians, such as promyshlenniki from various European parts of the Russian Empire or from Siberia.

After the Bering expedition in 1741, Russians raced to explore the Aleutian Islands and gain control of its resources. The Indigenous peoples were forced to pay taxes in the form of beaver and seal fur, and opted to do so rather than fight the ever-growing stream of Russian hunters.[14]

Grigory Shelikhov led attacks on Kodiak Island against the indigenous Alutiiq (Sugpiaqs) in 1784, known as the Awa'uq Massacre. According to some estimates, Russian employees of the trading company killed more than 2,000 Alutiiq. The company then took over control of the island. By the late 1790s, its trading posts had become the centers of permanent settlements of Russian America (1799–1867). Until about 1819, Russian settlement and activity was largely confined to the Aleutian Islands, the Pribilof Islands, Kodiak Island, and to scattered coastal locations on the mainland.[15] Russian Orthodox missionaries went to these islands, where in 1800 priests conducted services in the local language on Kodiak Island, and by 1824 in the Aleutian Islands. An Orthodox priest translated the Holy Scripture and the liturgy into Tlingit language, which was used by another major people of Alaska Natives.

The Russian period, lasting roughly 120 years, can be divided into three 40-year periods: 1745 to 1785, 1785 to 1825, and 1825 to 1865.[16]

The first phase of the Russian period (1745 to 1785) affected only the Aleut (Unangan) and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) profoundly. During this period, large sectors of the Bering Sea coast were mapped by the English explorer James Cook, rather than by the Russians. In 1778, Cook discovered and named Bristol Bay and then sailed northward around Cape Newenham into Kuskokwim Bay.[16]

During the second phase of the Russian period (1785 to 1825), the Shelikhov-Golikov Company and later the Russian-American Company was organized and continued in the exploration of the lucrative north Pacific Ocean sea otter trade.[16] During this time, they improved their treatment of the native people, skipping massacres for virtual enslavement and exploitation. The major portion of Alaska remained little known, and the Yup'ik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta were not strongly affected.[16] The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 was signed in St. Petersburg between representatives of Russian Empire and the United States on April 17, 1824, and went into effect on January 12, 1825.

During the last phase of the Russian period (1825 to 1865), the Alaska Natives began to suffer the effects of introduced infectious diseases, to which they had no acquired immunity. In addition, their societies were disrupted by increasing reliance on European trade goods from the permanent Russian trading posts. A third influence were the early Russian Orthodox missionaries, who sought to convert the peoples to their form of Christianity.[16] The missionaries learned native languages, and conducted services in those languages from the early decades of the 19th century. The Treaty of Saint Petersburg of 1825 defined the boundaries between Russian America and British Empire claims and possessions in the Pacific Northwest.

American Period[edit]

The United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867. Originally organized as the Department of Alaska (1867–1884), the area was renamed as the District of Alaska (1884–1912) and the Territory of Alaska (1912–1959) before it was admitted to the Union as the State of Alaska (1959–present).[17]

During the Early American Period (1867–1939), the federal government generally neglected the territory, other than using positions in territorial government for political patronage. There was an effort to exploit the natural resources in the years following the purchase of Alaska. Moravian Protestant (1885) and Jesuit Catholic (1888) missions and schools were established along the Kuskokwim and lower Yukon rivers, respectively. The Qasgiq disappeared due to missionary coercion. During the early American period, native languages were forbidden in the mission schools, where only English was permitted.[18]

The economy of the islands also took a hit under American ownership. Hutchinson, Cool & Co., an American trading company, took advantage of its position as the only trader in the area and charged the natives as much as possible for its goods. The combination of high costs and low hunting and fishing productivity persisted until the Russo-Japanese war cut off contact from Russia.[13]

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law on December 18, 1971. The ANCSA is central to both Alaska's history and current Alaska Native economies and political structures.[19]


Before European contact (until in the 1800s), the history of the Yup'ik, like that of other Alaska Natives, was oral tradition. Each society or village had storytellers (qulirarta) who were known for their memories, and those were the people who told the young about the group's history. Their stories (traditional legends qulirat and historical narratives qanemcit) express crucial parts of Alaska's earliest history.

The historiography of the Yup'ik ethnohistory, as a part of Eskimology, is slowly emerging. The first academic studies of the Yup'ik tended to generalize all "Eskimo" cultures as homogeneous and changeless.[20]

While the personal experiences of non-natives who visited the Indigenous people of what is now called Alaska formed the basis of early research, by the mid-20th century archaeological excavations in southwestern Alaska allowed scholars to study the effects of foreign trade goods on 19th-century Eskimo material culture.[20] Also, translations of pertinent journals and documents from Russian explorers and the Russian-American Company added breadth to the primary source base.[20] The first ethnographic information about the Yup'ik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was recorded by the Russian explorer Lieutenant Lavrenty Zagoskin, during his explorations for the Russian-American Company in 1842–1844.[21]

The first academic cultural studies of southwestern Alaskan Indigenous people were developed only in the late 1940s. This was due in part to a dearth of English-language documentation, as well as competition in the field of other subject areas.[20] American anthropologist Margaret Lantis (1906–2006) published The Social Culture of the Nunivak Eskimo in 1946; it was the first complete description of any Alaskan indigenous group. She began Alaskan Eskimo Ceremonialism (1947) as a broad study of Alaskan Indigenous people.[20] James W. VanStone (1925–2001), an American cultural anthropologist, and Wendell H. Oswalt were among the earliest scholars to undertake significant archaeological research in the Yup'ik region.[20] VanStone demonstrates the ethnographic approach to cultural history in Eskimos of the Nushagak River: An Ethnographic History (1967).[20] Wendell Oswalt published a comprehensive ethnographic history of the Yukon–Kuskokwim delta region, the longest and most detailed work on Yup'ik history to date in Bashful No Longer: An Alaskan Eskimo ethnohistory, 1778–1988 (1988).[20] Ann Fienup-Riordan (born 1948) began writing extensively about the Yukon-Kuskokwim Indigenous people in the 1980s; she melded Yup'ik voices with traditional anthropology and history in an unprecedented fashion.[20]

The historiography of western Alaska has few Yup'ik scholars contributing writings. Harold Napoleon, an elder of Hooper Bay, presents an interesting premise in his book Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being (1988).[20] A more scholarly, yet similar, treatment of cultural change can be found in Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley's A Yupiaq Worldview: a Pathway to Ecology and Spirit (2001), which focuses on the intersection of Western and Yup'ik values.[20]


Yuuyaraq or Way of life (yuuyaraq sg yuuyarat pl in Yup'ik, cuuyaraq in Cup'ik, cuuyarar in Cupig) is the term for the Yup'ik way of life as a human being. The expression encompasses interactions with others, subsistence or traditional knowledge, environmental or traditional ecological knowledge, and understanding, indigenous psychology, and spiritual balance.[22]

Yuuyaraq defined the correct way of thinking and speaking about all living things, especially the great sea and land mammals on which the Yup'ik relied for food, clothing, shelter, tools, kayaks, and other essentials. These great creatures were sensitive; they were believed able to understand human conversations, and they demanded and received respect. Yuuyaraq prescribed the correct method of hunting and fishing, and the correct way of handling all fish and game caught by the hunter in order to honor and appease the spirits and maintain a harmonious relationship with the fish and game. Although unwritten, this way can be compared to Mosaic law because it governed all aspects of a human being's life.[23]


An Alaska Native elder (tegganeq sg tegganrek dual tegganret pl in Yup'ik, teggneq sg teggnerek ~ teggenrek dual teggneret ~ teggenret pl in Cup'ik, taqnelug in Cupig) is a respected elder. The elder is defined as an individual who has lived an extended life, maintains a healthy lifestyle, and has a wealth of cultural information and knowledge. The elder has expertise based upon know-how and provides consultation to the community and family when needed.[24] Traditionally, knowledge was passed down from the elders to the youth through storytelling.[25] A naucaqun is a lesson or reminder by which the younger generation learns from the experience of the elders.[7]

Tegganeq is derived from the Yup'ik word tegge- meaning "to be hard; to be tough".[7] Yup'ik discipline is different from Western discipline. The discipline and authority within Yup'ik child-rearing practices have at its core respect for the children.[24]

More recently, elders have been invited to attend and present at national conferences and workshops.[24] Elders-in-residence is a program that involves elders in teaching and curriculum development in a formal educational setting (oftentimes a university), and is intended to influence the content of courses and the way the material is taught.[26]


A Hooper Bay Askinarmiut boy poses wearing a circular cap (uivqurraq) and fur parka, photograph by Edward S Curtis (1930).[27]


The Yup'ik kinship is based on what is formally classified in academia as an Eskimo kinship or lineal kinship. This kinship system is bilateral and a basic social unit consisted of from two to four generations, including parents, offspring, and parents' parents. Kinship terminologies in the Yup'ik societies exhibit a Yuman type of social organization with bilateral descent, and Iroquois cousin terminology. Bilateral descent provides each individual with his or her own unique set of relatives or kindred: some consanguineal members from the father's kin group and some from the mother's, with all four grandparents affiliated equally to the individual. Parallel cousins are referenced by the same terms as siblings, and cross cousins are differentiated.[28] Marriages were arranged by parents. Yup'ik societies (regional or socioterritorial groups) were shown to have a band organization characterized by extensive bilaterally structured kinship with multifamily groups aggregating annually.[28]


The Yup'ik created larger settlements in winter to take advantage of group subsistence activities. Villages were organized in certain ways. Cultural rules of kinship served to define relationships among the individuals of the group.[28] Villages ranged in size from just two to more than a dozen sod houses (ena) for women and girls, one (or more in large villages) qasgiq for men and boys, and warehouses.


Formerly, social status was attained by successful hunters who could provide food and skins. Successful hunters were recognized as leaders by members of the social group.[29] Although there were no formally recognized leaders, informal leadership was practiced by or in the men who held the title Nukalpiaq ("man in his prime; successful hunter and good provider"). The nukalpiaq, or good provider, was a man of considerable importance in village life. This man was consulted in any affair of importance affecting the village in general, particularly in determining participation in the Kevgiq and Itruka'ar ceremonies.[28] He was said to be a major contributor to those ceremonies and provider to orphans and widows.[28]

The position of the nukalpiaq was not, however, comparable to that of the umialik (whaling captain) of the northern and northwestern Alaska Iñupiaq. The captain had the power to collect the surplus of the village, and much of the basic production of individual family members, and later redistribute it.[30]


Qasgiq entry in the Yup'ik village of Stebbins (Tapraq), 1900

Traditionally, in the winter the Yup'ik lived in semi-permanent subterranean houses, with some for the men and others for the women (with their children) . The Yup'ik men lived together in a larger communal house (qasgiq), while women and children lived in smaller, different sod houses (ena). Although the men and women lived separately, they had many interactions. Depending on the village, qasgiq and ena were connected by a tunnel. Both qasgiq and ena also served as school and workshop for young boys and girls. Among the Akulmiut, the residential pattern of separate houses for women and children and a single residence for men and boys persisted until about 1930.[28]

The women's house or Ena ([e]na sg nek dual net pl in Yup'ik, ena sg enet pl in Cup'ik, ena in Cup'ig) was an individual or semi-communal smaller sod house. They looked similar in construction to the qasgiqs but were only about half the size. Women and children lived in houses that served as residences for two to five women and their children. Raising children was the women's responsibility until young boys left the home to join other males in the qasgiq to learn discipline and how to make a living.[28] The ena also served as a school and workshop for young girls, where they could learn the art and craft of skin sewing, food preparation, and other important survival skills.

Wooden qasgiruaq (qasgiq model) with walrus ivory dolls. Ethnological Museum of Berlin.

Men's house or Qasgiq (is pronounced as "kaz-geek" and often referred to as kashigi, kasgee, kashim, kazhim, or casine in the old literature; qasgi ~ qasgiq sg qasgik dual qasgit pl in Yup'ik, qaygiq sg qaygit pl in Cup'ik, kiiyar in Cup'ig; qasgimi "in the qasgi") is a communal larger sod house. The qasgiq was used and occupied from November through March.[28] The qasgiq housed all adult males in the community and male youth about seven years and older. The women prepared meals in their houses, known as ena. These were taken to the males in the qasgiq by young women and girls.[28]

The qasgiq was served as a school and workshop for young boys, where they could learn the art and craft of mask making, tool making, and kayak construction. It was also a place for learning hunting and fishing skills. At times, the men created a firebath, where hot fires and rocks produced heat to aid in body cleansing. Thus, the qasgiq was a residence, bathhouse, and workshop for all but the youngest male community members who still lived with their mothers.[28] Although there were no formally recognized leaders or offices to be held, men and boys were assigned specific places within the qasgiq that distinguished rank of males by age and residence.[28] The qasgiq was a ceremonial and spiritual center for the community.

In primary villages, all ceremonies (and Yup'ik dancing) and gatherings (within and between villages among the socioterritorial and neighboring groups) took place in the qasgiq.[28] During the early 20th century, Christian church services were held in the qasgiq before churches were constructed.[28] Virtually all official business, within the group, between groups and villages, and between villagers and non-Yup'ik (such as early missionaries) was conducted in the qasgiq.[28]

The Yup'ik Eskimo did not live in igloos or snow houses. But, the northern and northwestern Alaskan Iñupiaq built snow houses for temporary shelter during their winter hunting trips. The word iglu means "house" in Iñupiaq. This word is the Iñupiaq cognate of the Yup'ik word ngel'u ("beaver lodge, beaver house"), which it resembled in shape.[7]

Regional groups[edit]

Among the Yup'ik of southwestern Alaska, societies (regional or socioterritorial groups), like those of the Iñupiat of northwestern Alaska, were differentiated by territory, speech patterns, clothing details, annual cycles, and ceremonial life.[28]

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 or socioterritorial groups (their native names will generally be found ending in -miut postbase which signifies "inhabitants of ..." tied together by kinship[31][32] — hence the Yup'ik word tungelquqellriit, meaning "those who share ancestors (are related)".[32] These groups included:

  • Unalirmiut (Unaligmiut), inhabiting the Norton Sound area.[33][34][35] 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.[36]
  • Pastulirmiut, inhabiting the mouth of Yukon River.[33] 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).[36] 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.[36]
  • Kuigpagmiut (Ikogmiut), inhabiting the Lower Yukon River.[33][35] The name derives from Kuigpak, meaning "big river", the Yup'ik name for the Yukon River.[36]
  • Marayarmiut (Mararmiut, Maarmiut, Magemiut), inhabiting the Scammon Bay area.[33][34][35] 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.[36]
  • Askinarmiut, inhabiting the area of the present-day villages of Hooper Bay and Chevak.[33] Askinarmiut is an old name for the village of Hooper Bay. (DCED).
  • Qaluyaarmiut (Kaialigamiut, Kayaligmiut), inhabiting Nelson Island.[33][34][35] The name derives from Qaluyaaq, the Yup'ik name for Nelson Island, which derives in turn from qalu, meaning "dipnet".[36] In the Qaluuyaaq, there are three villages. Those villages are Toksook bay, Nightmute, and Tununak.
  • Akulmiut, inhabiting the tundra or "Big Lake" area north of the Kuskokwim River.[33][34] 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.[28] The name derives from akula meaning "midsection", "area between", or "tundra".[36]
  • 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, Kongiganak, Kwigillingok are located and south of the bay where the villages of and Eek and Quinhagak are located (Goodnews Bay?).[33][34][35] The name derives from canineq, meaning "lower coast", which derives in turn from the root cani, "area beside".[36]
  • Nunivaarmiut (Nuniwarmiut, Nuniwagamiut), inhabiting Nunivak Island.[33][34] The name derives from Nunivaaq, the name for the island in the General Central dialect of Yup'ik.[36] In the Nunivak dialect of Yup'ik (that is, in Cup'ig), the island's name is Nuniwar and the people are called Nuniwarmiut.[37]
  • Kusquqvagmiut (Kuskowagamiut), inhabiting the Lower and middle Kuskokwim River.[33][34][35][38] The name derives from Kusquqvak, the Yup'ik name for the Kuskokwim River, possibly meaning "a big thing (river) with a small flow".[36] The Kusquqvagmiut can be further divided into two groups:
    • Unegkumiut, inhabiting the Lower Kuskokwim below Bethel to its mouth in Kuskowkim Bay.[35][39] The word derives from unegkut, meaning "those downriver";[36] hence, "downriver people".
    • Kiatagmiut, inhabiting inland regions in the upper drainages of the Kuskowkim, Nushagak, Wood, and Kvichak river drainages.[33][34][35][38] The word derives probably from kiani, meaning "inside" or "upriver";[36] 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.[40]
  • Tuyuryarmiut (Togiagamiut), inhabiting the Togiak River area.[34][35][38] The word derives from Tuyuryaq, the Yup'ik name for the village of Togiak.[36]
  • Aglurmiut (Aglegmiut), inhabiting the Bristol Bay area along the Lower Nushagak River and northern Alaska Peninsula.[33][34][35][38] The word derives from agluq, meaning "ridgepole" or "center beam of a structure".[36]

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 many of the more northerly Iñupiaq people. 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.[31]



Aerial view of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River. Bethel (Mamterilleq) is regional hub of Yup'ik homeland.

The homeland of Yup'ik is the Dfc climate type subarctic tundra ecosystem. The land is generally flat tundra and wetlands. The area that covers about 100,000 square miles which is roughly about 1/3 of Alaska.[41] Their lands are located in five of the 32 ecoregions of Alaska:[42]

Before European contact, the Yup'ik, like other neighbouring Indigenous groups, were semi-nomadic hunter-fisher-gatherers who moved seasonally throughout the year within a reasonably well-defined territory to harvest sea and land mammals, fish, bird, berry and other renewable resources. The economy of Yup'ik is a mixed cash-subsistence system, like other modern foraging economies in Alaska. The primary use of wild resources is domestic. Commercial fishing in Alaska and trapping patterns are controlled primarily by external factors.

On the coast, in the past as in the present, to discuss hunting was to begin to define man. In Yup'ik, the word anqun (man) comes from the root angu- (to catch after chasing; to catch something for food) and means, literally, a device for chasing.[16]

Northwest Alaska is one of the richest Pacific salmon areas in the world, with the world's largest commercial Alaska salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

Coastal Togiak subregion (Manokotak, Twin Hills, Togiak, Goodnews Bay, Platinum) annual hunting-gathering cycle (1985)[43]
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King salmon catching
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Whitefish catching
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Pike catching
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other freshwater fish catching
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Moose hunting
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Caribou hunting
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Brown bear hunting
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Harbor seal hunting
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Bearded & Ringed seal hunting
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Sea lion hunting
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Porcupine hunting
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Hare & Rabbit hunting
Beaver trapping
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River otter trapping
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Red fox trapping
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Parky squirrel trapping
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other furbearers trapping
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Ducks & Geese hunting
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Ptarmigan hunting
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Bird eggs gathering
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Clams & Mussels gathering
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Berry picking
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Basket grass gathering
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In the Nome Census Area, Brevig Mission, an Iñupiaq community, tended to trade with other Iñupiaq communities to the north: Shishmaref, Kotzebue, and Point Hope. The Yup'ik communities (Elim, Stebbins and St. Michael), tended to trade with Yup'ik communities to the south: Kotlik, Emmonak, Mountain Village, Pilot Station, St. Mary's of the Kusilvak Census Area.[44]


Nunivak kayaks, August 1936

Traditionally, transportation was primarily by dog sleds (land) and kayaks (water). Sea mammal hunting and fishing in the Bering Sea region took place from both small narrow closed skin-covered boats called kayaks and larger broad open skin-covered boats called umiaks. Kayaks were used more frequently than umiaks. Traditionally, kayaking and umiaking served as water transportation and sea hunting. Dog sleds are ideal land transportation. Pedestrian transportation is on foot in summer and snowshoes in winter. Only small local road systems exist in Southwest Alaska. Only a few closely adjacent villages are linked by roads. Today, snowmobile or snowmachine travel is a critical component of winter transport; an ice road for highway vehicles is used along portions of the Kuskokwim River.

This kayak appears to be built in the Nunivak Island style. Collection of the Arktikum Science Museum in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Nunivak Cup'ig kayak cockpit stanchions (ayaperviik). The smiling face of a man and the frowning face of a woman grace these pieces from a kayak frame. Collection of the University of Alaska Museum of the North

The kayak (qayaq sg qayak dual qayat pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, qayar ~ qay'ar sg qay'ag dual qay'at ~ qass'it pl in Cup'ig; from qai- "surface; top")[7]) is small narrow closed skin-covered boat and was first used by the native speakers of the Eskimo–Aleut languages. The Yup'ik used kayaks for seal hunting, fishing, and general transportation. The Yup'ik people considered a kayak the owner's most prized possession. Traditionally, a kayak was a Yup'ik hunter's most prized possession and a symbol of manhood.[45] It is fast and maneuverable, seaworthy, light, and strong. Kayak is made of driftwood from the beach, covered with the skin of a sea mammal, and sewn with sinew from another animal. Yup'ik kayaks are known from the earliest ethnographic reports, but there are currently no surviving full-size Yup'ik kayaks from the pre-contact period.[46] The Yup'ik Norton Sound/Hooper Bay kayaks consisted of 5–6 young seal skins stretched for the covering. The Yup'ik style of seams contains a running stitch partially piercing the skin on top and an overlapping stitch on the inside with a grass insert.[47] Caninermiut style Yup'ik kayak used in the Kwigillingok and Kipnuk regions and there are teeth marks in the wood of the circular hatch opening, made by the builders as they bent and curved the driftwood into shape.[48]

Kayak stanchions or kayak cockpit stanchions (ayapervik sg ayaperviik dual ayaperviit pl or ayaperyaraq sg ayaperyarat pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, ayaperwig in Cup'ig) are top piece centered at side of coaming and used as a support as one climbs out of a kayak. They prevented the person from falling while getting in and out of the kayak. All kayaks had ayaperviik on them. This one has a woman's frowning face with a down-turned mouth carved on it. Perhaps the other side would have a man's smiling face carved on it.[49]

The umiak or open skin boat, large skin boat (angyaq sg angyak dual angyat pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, angyar in Cup'ig) is larger broad open skin-covered boat.

The dog sleds (ikamraq sg ikamrak dual ikamrat pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, qamauk in Yukon and Unaliq-Pastuliq Yup'ik, ikamrag, qamaug in Cup'ig; often used in the dual for one sled)[50] are an ancient and widespread means of transportation for Northern Indigenous peoples, but when non-Native fur traders and explorers first traveled the Yukon River and other interior regions in the mid-19th century they observed that only Yupikized Athabaskan groups, including the Koyukon, Deg Hit'an and Holikachuk, used dogs in this way. Both of these peoples had probably learned the technique from their Iñupiat or Yup'ik neighbors. Non-Yupikized Athabaskan groups, including the Gwich'in, Tanana, Ahtna and other Alaskan Athabaskans pulled their sleds and toboggans by hand, using dogs solely for hunting and as pack animals.[51]


Yup'ik (as Yup'ik and Cup'ik) culture is one of five cultural groups of the Alaska Natives.[52]

The Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural center of the Yup'ik culture centrally located in Bethel near the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Kuskokwim Campus and city offices. The mission of the center is promote, preserve and develop the traditions of the Yup'ik through traditional and non-traditional art forms of the Alaska Native art, including arts and crafts, performance arts, education, and Yup'ik language. The center also supports local artists and entrepreneurs.[53]

Language and literature[edit]


The Yup'ik language is one of four or five Yupik languages branch of Eskimo–Aleut languages. Yup'ik is the largest ethnic group in Alaska and is the language now spoken by the largest number of native persons. The Yup'ik, like all Northern Indigenous languages, is a suffixing language made up of noun and verb bases to which one or more postbases and a final ending or enclitics are added to denote such features as number, case, person, and position. The Yup'ik category of number distinguishes singular, plural, and dual. Yup'ik does not have a category of gender and articles. The Yup'ik orthography one sees nowadays was developed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the 1960s by native speakers of Yup'ik elders working with linguists.[9] The Yup'ik are the most numerous of the various Alaska Natives. There are 10,400 speakers out of a population of 25,000, and the language is threatened in 2007, according to Alaska Native Language Center.[54]

It is a single well-defined language (now called as Yup'ik or Yup'ik and Cup'ik) a dialect continuum[55] with five major dialects: extinct Egegik (Aglegmuit-Tarupiaq), and living Norton Sound or Unaliq-Pastuliq dialect (two subdialects: Unaliq and Kotlik), General Central Yup'ik dialect (seven subdialects: Nelson Island and Stebbins, Nushagak River, Yukon or Lower Yukon, Upper or Middle Kuskokwim, Lake Iliamna, Lower Kuskokwim, and Bristol Bay), Hooper Bay-Chevak dialect (two subdialects: Hooper Bay Yup'ik and Chevak Cup'ik), and Nunivak Cup'ig dialect.[56] Nunivak Island dialect (Cup'ig) is distinct and highly divergent from mainland Yup'ik dialects.

Population of the dialect-based main Yup'ik groups in 1980.[56]
Yup'ik groups Population Speakers Nonspeakers
General Central Yup'ik 13,702 9,622 9,080
Unaliq-Pastuliq 752 508 244
Hooper Bay-Chevak 1,037 959 78
Nunivak 153 92 61
Maintenance of the Eskimo-Aleut languages of Alaska (1980 and 1992) and their degree of viability (1992).[57]
People and language 1980 population / speakers & percent 1992 population / speakers & percent 1992 viability
Siberian Yupik 1,000 / 1,050 95% 1,000 / 1,050 95% spoken by most or all of the adults as well as all or most of the children
Central Yup'ik 17,000 / 14,000 80% 18,000 / 12,000 67% spoken by most or all of the adults as well as all or most of the children & spoken by most of the adults but not by most of the children
Inupiaq 12,000 / 5,000 40% 13,000 / 4,000 31% spoken by most of the adults but not by most of the children & spoken only by older people (mainly those above 50 years of age)
Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) 3,000 / 1,000 33% 3,100 / 600 19% spoken by most of the adults but not by most of the children & spoken only by older people (mainly those above 50 years of age)
Aleut (Unangan) 2,200 / 700 35% 2,100 / 400 19% spoken by most of the adults but not by most of the children & spoken only by older people (mainly those above 50 years of age)


Yup'ik was not a written language until the arrival of Europeans, the Russians, around the beginning of the 19th century.[9] Pre-contact knowledge transfer and learning among Yup'ik people traditionally was through oral culture, with no written history or transcribed language. Children were taught about subsistence practices, culture and social systems through stories, legends, toys, and examples of behaviour.[46]

School bus at Crooked Creek, Alaska (Tevyaraq), March 5, 2008

The early schools for Alaska Natives were mostly church-run schools of the Russian Orthodox missions in Russian-controlled Alaska (1799–1867), and, after 1890, the Jesuits and Moravians, allowed the use of the Alaska Native languages in instruction in schools. However, in the 1880s, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson (1834–1909) began a policy of prohibiting Native languages in the mission schools he managed. When he became United States Commissioner of Education, he proposed a policy of prohibition of indigenous language use in all Alaskan schools. This policy came into full force by about 1910. From that time period until the passage of the Bilingual Education Act in 1968, children in Alaskan schools suffered severe treatment for speaking their Native languages in schools.[58][59]

Chevak, Kashunamiut School District, the school (blue), lake, and condemned old school (red)

17 Yup'ik villages had adopted local elementary bilingual programs by 1973. In the 1980s and 1990s Yup'ik educators became increasingly networked across village spaces. Between the early 1990s and the run of the century, students in Yup'ik villages, like youth elsewhere became connected to the Internet and began to form a "Yup'ik Worldwide Web". Through Facebook and YouTube, youth are creating new participatory networks and multimodal competencies.[60]

Bilingualism is of course still quite common in Alaska today, especially among Native people who speak English in addition to their own language.[9] All village schools are publicly funded by the state of Alaska. The school districts of the Yup'ik area:

  • Lower Yukon School District (LYSD). English and Yup'ik bilingual education is done at these schools: Alakanuk, Emmonak, Hooper Bay, Ignatius Beans Memorial, Kotlik, Marshall, Pilot Station, Pitkas Point, Russian Mission, Scammon Bay, Sheldon Point.[61]
  • Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD). English and Yup'ik (with Cup'ig at the Nunivak Island) bilingual education is done at these schools: Atmautluak, Akiuk-Kasigluk, Akula-Kasigluk, Ayaprun, BABS School, Bethel High School, Chefornak, EEK, Goodnews Bay, Gladys Jung, Kipnuk, Kongiganak, Kwethluk, Kwigillingok, M.E. School, Mekoryuk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Newtok, Nightmute, Nunapitchuk, Oscarville, Platinum, Quinhagak, Toksook Bay, Tuntutuliak, Tununak, Pre-School. [62]
  • Yupiit School District (YSD) English and Yup'ik (with Cup'ig at the Nunivak Island) bilingual education is done at these schools: Akiachak, Akiak, Tuluksak [63]
  • Kashunamiut School District (KSD) is within the village of Chevak. English and Cup'ik bilingual education is done at this school.[64]
  • Kuspuk School District. English and Yup'ik bilingual education is done at these schools: Lower Kalskag, Kalskag, Aniak, Chuathbaluk, Crooked creek, Red Devil, Sleetmute, Stony River.[65]
  • Southwest Region School District (SWRSD). English and Yup'ik bilingual education is done at these schools: Aleknagik, Clarks Point, Ekwok, Koliganek, Manokotak, New Stuyahok, Togiak, Twin Hills [66][67]


Yup'ik oral storytelling stories or tales are often divided into the two categories of Qulirat (traditional legends) and Qanemcit (historical narratives). In this classification then, what is identified as myth or fairytale in the Western (European) tradition is a quliraq, and a personal or historical narrative is a qanemciq.[68][69]

  • Traditional Legends (quliraq sg qulirat pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, qulirer in Cup'ig) are traditional Yup'ik legends or mythical tales that have been transmitted from generation to generation and often have supernatural elements. These traditional stories that has been handed down by word of mouth and involving fictional, mythical, legendary, or historical characters, or animals taking on human characteristics, told for entertainment and edification. Yup'ik family legends (ilakellriit qulirait) are an oral story that has been handed down through the generations within a certain family.
  • Historical Narratives (qanemciq sg qanemcit pl or qanemci, qalamciq, qalangssak in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, qanengssi, univkangssi in Cup'ig) are a personal and historical Yup'ik narratives that can be attributed to an individual author, even though he or she has been forgotten.

The stories that previous generations of Yup'ik heard in the qasgi and assimilated as part of a life spent hunting, travelling, dancing, socializing, preparing food, repairing tools, and surviving from one season to the next.[70] Yup'ik oral stories (qulirat and qanemcit) of the storytellers (qulirarta) were embedded in many social functions of the society. Storyknifing (yaaruilta literally "let's go story knife!") stories a traditional and still common activity of young girls and are told by children of all ages in the Yup'ik lands. These stories are illustrated by figures sketched on mud or snow with a ceremonial knife, known as story knife or story telling knife (yaaruin, saaruin, ateknguin, quliranguarrsuun in Yup'ik, qucgutaq in Cup'ik, igaruarun in Cup'ig). Story knives made of wood (equaq is wooden story knife) ivory or bone (cirunqaaraq is antler story knife). In the Yup'ik storytelling tradition, an important aspect of traditional stories is that each listener can construct his or her own meaning from the same storytelling.[71]


The Yup'ik traditionally decorate most all of their tools, even ones that perform smaller functions.[72] Traditionally sculptures are not made for decoration. One of their most popular forms of the Alaska Native art are Yup'ik masks. They most often create masks for ceremonies but the masks are traditionally destroyed after being used. These masks are used to bring the person wearing it luck and good fortune in hunts. Other art forms, including Yup'ik clothing, Yup'ik doll are most popular.


Nunivak Cup'ig child wearing bird skin clothing (parka?) and wood knot-like beaded circular cap (uivqurraq), photograph by Edward Curtis, 1930

The traditional clothing system developed and used by the Yup'ik and other Northern Indigenous peoples is the most effective cold weather clothing developed to date. Yup'ik clothing tended to fit relatively loosely. Skin sewing is artistic arena in which Yup'ik women and a few younger men excel. Yup'ik women made clothes and footwear from animal skins (especially hide and fur of marine and land mammals for fur clothing, sometimes birds, also fish), sewn together using needles made from animal bones, walrus ivory, and bird bones such as front part of a crane's foot and threads made from other animal products, such as sinew. The semilunar woman's knife ulu is used to process and cut skins for clothing and footwear. Women made most clothing of caribou (wild caribou Rangifer tarandus granti and domestic reindeer Rangifer tarandus tarandus) and sealskin. The English words kuspuk (parka cover or overshirt) and mukluk (skin boot) which is derived from the Yup'ik word qaspeq and maklak. Before the arrival of the Russian fur traders (promyshlennikis), caribou and beaver skins were used for traditional clothing but Northern Indigenous peoples were compelled by to sell most of their furs to the Russians and substitute (inferior) manufactured materials. Everyday functional items like skin mittens, mukluks, and jackets are commonly made today, but the elegant fancy parkas (atkupiaq) of traditional times are now rare. Today, many Yup'ik have adopted western-style clothing.


Yup'ik painted wood mask depicting the face of a tuunraq (keeper of the game), Yukon River area, late 19th century, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas.

Yup'ik masks (kegginaquq and nepcetaq in Yup'ik, agayu in Cup'ig) are expressive shamanic ritual masks. One of their most popular forms of the Alaska Native art are masks. The masks vary enormously but are characterised by great invention. They are typically made of wood, and painted with few colors. The Yup'ik masks were carved by men or women, but mainly were carved by the men. They most often create masks for ceremonies but the masks are traditionally destroyed after being used. After Christian contact in the late 19th century, masked dancing was suppressed, and today it is not practiced as it was before in the Yup'ik villages.[73][74]

The National Museum of the American Indian, as a part of the Smithsonian Institution, provided photographs of Yup'ik ceremonial masks colledted by Adams Hollis Twitchell, an explorer and trader who traveled Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush newly arrived in the Kuskokwim region, in Bethel in the early 1900s.[30]

Music and dance[edit]

Nunivak Cup'ig man playing a very large drum (cauyaq) in 1927 photograph by Edward S Curtis

Yup'ik dancing (yuraq in Yup'ik) is a traditional form of dancing usually performed to songs in Yup'ik. Round drums cover with seal stomach and played with wooden sticks of driftwood provide a rhythmic beat. Both men and women choreograph the dances and sing in accompaniment. Typically, the men are in the front, kneeling and the women stand in the back. The drummers are in the very back of the dance group. The Yup'ik use dance fans (finger masks or maskettes, tegumiak)to emphasize and exaggerate arm motions. Dancing plays an important role in both the social and spiritual life of the Yup'ik community. The Yup'ik have returned to practicing their songs and dances, which are a form of prayer. Traditional dancing in the qasgiq is a communal activity in Yup'ik tradition. Mothers and wives brought food to the qasgiq (men's house) where they would join in an evening of ceremonial singing and dancing. The mask was a central element in Yup'ik ceremonial dancing.[75] There are dances for fun, social gatherings, exchange of goods, and thanksgiving. Yup'ik ways of dancing (yuraryaraq) embrace six fundamental key entities identified as ciuliat (ancestors), angalkuut (shamans), cauyaq (drum), yuaruciyaraq (song structures), yurarcuutet (regalia) and yurarvik (dance location).[76] The Yuraq is use generic term for Yup'ik/Cup'ik regular dance. Also, yuraq is concerned with animal behaviour and hunting of animals, or with ridicule of individuals (ranging from affectionate teasing to punishing public embarrassment). But, use for inherited dance is Yurapik or Yurapiaq (lit. "real dance"). The dancing of their ancestors was banned by Christian missionaries in the late 19th century. After a century, Cama-i dance festival is a cultural celebration that started in the mid 1980s with a goal to gather dancers from outlying villages to share their music and dances. There are now many groups who perform dances in Alaska. Most popular activity in the Yup'ik-speaking area is rediscovered Yup'ik dancing.

Yupik Dance Festivals[edit]

Every year, the Yupiit of the Qaluuyaaq (Nelson Island) and the surrounding villages of Nelson Island gather up every weekend in each village. Each village hosts aYupik dance festivals which they call the festival Yurarpak (you-rawr-puk).

The qelutviaq is a one-string fiddle or lute played by the Yup'ik of Nelson Island.

Drums of Winter or Uksuum Cauyai: Drums of Winter (1977) is an ethnographic documentary on the culture of the Yup'ik people, focusing primarily on dance, music, and potlatch traditions in the community of Emmonak, Alaska.

Toys and games[edit]

Nunivak Cup'ig children playing jump-rope (qawaliqtar in Cup'ig), 1940 or 1941.

An Eskimo yo-yo or Alaska yo-yo is a traditional two-balled skill toy played and performed by the Eskimo-speaking Alaska Natives, such as Inupiat, Siberian Yupik, and Yup'ik. It resembles fur-covered bolas and yo-yo. It is regarded as one of the most simple, yet most complex, cultural artifacts/toys in the world.[77][78] The Eskimo yo-yo involves simultaneously swinging two sealskin balls suspended on caribou sinew strings in opposite directions with one hand. It is popular with Alaskans and tourists alike.[79]


Yup'ik dolls (yugaq, irniaruaq, sugaq, sugaruaq, suguaq in Yup'ik, cugaq, cugaruaq in Cup'ik, cuucunguar in Cup'ig) are dressed in traditional-style clothing, intended to protect the wearer from cold weather, and are often made from traditional materials obtained through food gathering. Play dolls from the Yup'ik area were made of driftwood, bone, or walrus ivory and measured from one to twelve inches in height or more.[80] Some human figurines were used by shamans. Dolls also mediated the transition between childhood and adulthood in the Yup'ik shamanism.


Tumnaq used to make Eskimo ice cream, circa 1910

Yup'ik cuisine is based on traditional subsistence food harvests (hunting, fishing and berry gathering) supplemented by seasonal subsistence activities. The Yup'ik region is rich with waterfowl, fish, and sea and land mammals. Yup'ik settled where the water remained ice-free in winter, where walruses, whales and seals came close to shore, and where there was a fishing stream or a bird colony nearby. Even if a place was not very convenient for human civilization, but had rich game, yup'ik would settle there. The coastal settlements rely more heavily on sea mammals (seals, walrusses, beluga whales), many species of fish (Pacific salmon, herring, halibut, flounder, trout, burbot, Alaska blackfish), shellfish, crabs, and seaweed. The inland settlements rely more heavily on Pacific salmon and freshwater whitefish, land mammals (moose, caribou), migratory waterfowl, bird eggs, berries, greens, and roots help sustain people throughout the region. Traditional subsistence foods are mixed with what is commercially available. Today about half the food is supplied by subsistence activities (subsistence foods), the other half is purchased from the commercial stores (market foods, store-bought foods).

Traditional Yup'ik delicacies are, akutaq (Eskimo ice cream), tepa (stinkheads), mangtak (muktuk).

Elevated cache (qulvarvik, qulrarvik, neqivik, enekvak, mayurpik, mayurrvik, ellivik, elliwig) was used to store food where it would be safe from animals. Hooper Bay, Alaska, 1929.

Elevated cache or raised log cache, also raised cache or log storehouse (qulvarvik sg qulvarviit pl [Yukon, Kuskokwim, Bristol Bay, NR, Lake Iliamna], qulrarvik [Egegik], neqivik [Hooper Bay-Chevak, Yukon, Nelson Island], enekvak [Hooper Bay-Chevak], mayurpik [Hooper Bay-Chevak], mayurrvik [Nelson Island], ellivik [Kuskokwim], elliwig [Nunivak]) is a bear cache-like safe food storage place designed to store food outdoors and prevent animals from accessing it. Elevated cache types include log or plank cache, open racks, platform caches, and tree caches. The high cabin-on-post cache was probably not an indigenous form among either Eskimos or Alaskan Athabaskans. Cabin-on-post caches are thought to have appeared in the 1870s. The cabinon-post form may thus have been introduced by early traders, miners, or missionaries, who would have brought with them memories of the domestic and storage structures constructed in their homelands.[81]


Alaskan economical salmonoid fish species (Oncorhynchus) are main food for the Yup'ik: Sockeye or Red salmon (sayak), Chum or Dog salmon (kangitneq), Chinook or King salmon (taryaqvak), Coho or Silver salmon (qakiiyaq), Pink or Humpback salmon (amaqaayak).

Fish as food, especially Pacific salmon (or in some places, non-salmon) species are primary main subsistence food for the Yup'ik. Both food and fish (and salmon) called neqa (sg) neqet (pl) in Yup'ik. Also for salmon called neqpik ~ neqpiaq (sg) neqpiit ~ neqpiat (pl) in Yup'ik, means literally "real food". But, main food for the Iñupiaq is meat of whale and caribou (both food and meat called niqi in Iñupiaq, also for meat called niqipiaq "real food").

Alaska subsistence communities are noted to obtain up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids through a subsistence diet.[82]

Tepas, also called stinkheads, stink heads, stinky heads, are fermented fish head such as king and silver salmon heads, are a traditional food of the Yup'ik. A customary way of preparing them is to place fish heads and guts in a wooden barrel, cover it with burlap, and bury it in the ground for about a week. For a short while in modern times, plastic bags and buckets replaced the barrel. However this increased the risk of botulism, and the Yup'ik have reverted to fermenting fishheads directly in the ground.[83][84]


Muktuk drying at Point Lay, Alaska. June 24, 2007.

Muktuk (mangtak in Yukon, Unaliq-Pastuliq, Chevak, mangengtak in Bristol Bay) is the traditional meal of frozen raw beluga whale skin (dark epidermis) with attached subcutaneous fat (blubber).


The tundra provides berries for making jams, jellies, and a Yup'ik delicacy commonly called akutaq or "Eskimo ice cream."

The mousefood (ugnarat neqait) consists of the roots of various tundra plants which are cached by voles in burrows


The dominant ceremonies are: Nakaciuq (Bladder Festival), Elriq (Festival of the Dead), Kevgiq (Messenger Feast), Petugtaq (request certain items), and Keleq (invitation).



Yup'ik shaman (angalkuq) exorcising evil spirits (caarrluk) from a sick boy. The enormous wooden hands with shortened thumbs (inglukellriik unatnquak ayautaunatek) worn by the shaman. Nushagak Bay, ca. 1890s[30]

Historically and traditionally, Yup'ik and other all Eskimos traditional religious practices could be very briefly summarised as a form of shamanism based on animism. Aboriginally and in early historic times the shaman, called as medicine man or medicine woman (angalkuq sg angalkuk dual angalkut pl or angalkuk sg angalkuuk dual angalkuut pl in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, angalku in Cup'ig) was the central figure of Yup'ik religious life and was the middle man between spirits and the humans. The role of shaman as the primary leader, petitioner, and a trans-mediator between the human and non-human spiritual worlds in association with music, dance, and masks. The shaman's professional responsibility was to enact ancient forms of prayers to request for the survival needs of the people. The powerful shaman called as big shaman (angarvak).

Yup'ik shamans directed the making of masks and composed the dances and music for winter ceremonies. The specified masks depicted survival essentials requested in ceremonies.[76] Shamans often carved the symbolic masks that were vital to many Yup'ik ceremonial dances and this masks represented spirits that the shaman saw during visions.[85] Shaman masks or plaque masks (nepcetaq sg nepcetak dual nepcetat pl) were empowered by shamans and are powerful ceremonial masks represented a shaman's helping spirit (tuunraq). Shamans wearing masks of bearded seal, moose, wolf, eagle, beaver, fish, and the north wind were accompanied with drums and music.[76]

Big mouth, 1493 by Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514), Nuremberg Chronicle (Schedel'sche Weltchronik). The Big mouth similar to Yup'ik Miluquyulit

Legendary animals, monsters, and half-humans: amikuk (sea monster said to resemble an octopus); amlliq (monster fish); arularaq (monster identified as "Bigfoot"); cirunelvialuk (sea creature); cissirpak (great worm; ingluilnguq creature that is only half a person); inglupgayuk (being with half a woman's face); irci, irciq (creature, half animal and half man); itqiirpak (big hand from the ocean); kun'uniq (sea creature with human features seen on pack ice); meriiq (creature that will suck the blood from one's big toe); miluquyuli (rock-throwing creature); muruayuli (creature that sinks into the ground as it walks); paalraayak (creature that moves underground); qamurralek (being with a dragging appendage); qununiq (person who lives in the sea); qupurruyuli (being with human female face who helps people at sea); quq'uyaq (polar bear); quugaarpak (mammoth-like creature that lives underground); tengempak (giant bird); tengmiarpak ("thunderbird"); tiissiq (caterpillar-like creature that leaves a scorched trail); tumarayuli (magical kayak); tunturyuaryuk (caribou-like creature); u͡gayaran (giant in Kuskokwim-area folklore); ulurrugnaq (sea monster said to devour whales); uligiayuli (ghost said to have a big blanket, which it wraps around children who are out too late at night playing hide-and-seek, it then takes them away); yuilriq (witch or ghost that walks in the air above the ground and has no liver; a large monster that lives in the mountains and eats people).[7]

Legendary humanoids: alirpak little person; cingssiik (little people having conical hats); ciuliaqatuk (ancestor identified with the raven); egacuayak (elf, dwarf); kelessiniayaaq (little people, said to be spirits of the dead); ircenrraq ("little person" or extraordinary person); tukriayuli (underground dweller that knocks on the earth's surface).[7]


Yupi'k in western and southwestern Alaska have had a long Christian history, in part from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Moravian influence. The arrival of missionaries dramatically altered life along the Bering Sea coast.[30] Yup'ik beliefs and lifestyles have changed considerably since the arrival of Westerners during the 19th century.[86]

The first Native Americans to become Russian Orthodox Church (later Orthodox Church in America) were the Aleuts (Unangan) living in contact with Russian fur traders (promyshlennikis) in the mid 18th century. Saint Jacob (or Iakov) Netsvetov, a Russian-Alaskan creole (his father was Russian from Tobolsk, and his mother was an Aleut from Atka Island) who became a priest of the Orthodox Church (he is the first Alaska Native Orthodox priest in Alaska) and continued the missionary work of St. Innocent among his and other Alaskan Native people. He moved to the Russian Mission (Iqugmiut) on the Yukon River in 1844 and served there until 1863. Netsvetov invented an alphabet and translated church materials and several Bible texts into Yup'ik and kept daily journals.[87][88]

Orthodox hegemony in Yup'ik territory was challenged in the late 1880s by Moravian and Catholic missions.

The Yup'ik at Moravian Mission Station, Bethel on the Kuskokwim River in the year 1900[89]

The Moravian Church is the oldest Protestant denomination and is organized into four provinces in North America: Northern, Southern, Alaska, and Labrador. The Moravian mission was first founded at Bethel, along the Kuskokwim River in 1885.[86] The mission and reindeer station Bethel (Mamterilleq literally "site of many caches") was first established by Moravian missionaries near or at the small Yupi'k village called Mumtrelega[90] (Mamterilleq literally "site of many caches") or Mumtreklogamute or Mumtrekhlagamute (Mamterillermiut literally "people of Mamterilleq"). In 1885, the Moravian Church established a mission in the Bethel, under the leadership of the Kilbucks and John's friend and classmate William H. Weinland (1861–1930) and his wife with carpenter Hans Torgersen. John Henry Kilbuck (1861–1922) and his wife, Edith Margaret Romig (1865–1933), were Moravian missionaries in southwestern Alaska in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[91] John H. Kilbuck was the first Lenape to be ordained as a Moravian minister. They served the Yup'ik, used their language in the Moravian Church in their area, and supported development of a writing system for Yup'ik. Joseph H. Romig (1872–1951) was a frontier physician and Moravian Church missionary and Edith Margaret's brother, who served as Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, from 1937 to 1938. Although the resemblances between Yup'ik and Moravian ideology and action may have aided the initial presentation of Christianity, they also masked profound differences in expectation.[92]

The Society of Jesus is a Christian male religious congregation of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits. In 1888, a Jesuit mission was established on Nelson Island and a year later moved to Akulurak (Akuluraq, the former site of St. Mary's Mission) at the mouth of the Yukon River.[30][86] Segundo Llorente (1906–1989) was a Spanish Jesuit, philosopher and author who spent 40 years as a missionary among the Yup'ik people in the most remote parts of Alaska. His first mission was at Akulurak.

During Christmas Yup'iks give gifts commemorating the departed.[7]


Despite the apparent Westernization of the Yup'ik and Iñupiaq), they have retained many of their traditional perceptions and responses to life situations.[29] Since the 1960s there has been a dramatic rise in alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and associated violent behaviors, which have upset family and village life and resulted in physical and psychological injury, death, and imprisonment.[23]

Alcohol abuse and suicide are common among Alaska Natives. Suicide and alcohol abuse is very common among rural young Yup'ik men.[93][94][95] Unintentional injury (accidents) and intentional self-harm (suicide) have been among the leading causes of death in the Native Alaska for many years.[96] Alaska Natives have higher rates of suicide than other Native Americans of the continental United States.[97] Alcohol abuse and dependence are common among Alaska Natives and are associated with high rates of violence and health problems.[98]

Map showing dry (red), wet (blue), and mixed (yellow) counties in the United States.(See List of dry communities by U.S. state.)

Alcohol and Native Americans: 12% of the deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related. In some continental Amerindian tribes, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is as high as 1.5 to 2.5 per 1000 live births, more than seven times the national average,[99] while among Alaska natives, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 5.6 per 1000 live births.[100] Deaths due to alcohol among American Indians are more common in men and among Northern Plains Indians, but Alaska Natives showed the least incidence of death.[101] Existing data do indicate, however, that Alaska Native alcohol-related death rates are almost nine times the national average, and approximately 7% of all Alaska Native deaths are alcohol related.[98]

When Alaska became a state in 1959, state laws took control of alcohol regulation from the federal government and Native communities. In 1981, however, the state legislature changed the alcohol laws to give residents broad powers, via a local option referendum, to regulate how alcohol comes into their communities. The 1986 statutes have remained in effect since that time, with only relatively minor amendments to formalize the prohibition on home brew in a dry community (teetotal) and clarify the ballot wording and scheduling of local option referenda.[102] Alaska specifically allows local jurisdictions to elect to go dry by public referendum. State law allows each village to decide on restrictions, and some boroughs may prohibit it altogether.[103]

Traditional subsistence foods, such as fish and marine mammals, and to a lesser extent shellfish, are the only significant direct dietary sources of two important types of the omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA protect against heart disease and possibly diabetes. The replacement of a subsistence diet that is low in fat and high in omega-3s with a market-based Western diet has increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in Alaska Natives. Many market (store-bought) foods are high in fats, carbohydrates, and sodium; and these may lead to increased weight gain, high cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia), high blood pressure (hypertension), and chronic diseases.[82]

Presently, the two biggest problems with the growing population are water and sewage. Water from the rivers and lakes is no longer potable as a result of pollution. Wells must be drilled and sewage lagoons built, but there are inherent problems as well. Chamber pots (qurrun in Yup'ik and Cup'ik, qerrun in Cup'ig) or honey buckets with waterless toilets are common in many rural villages in the state of Alaska, such as those in the Bethel area of the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta. About one-fourth of Alaska's 86,000 Native residents live without running water and use plastic buckets for toilets euphemistically called honey buckets[104]

Great Death[edit]

The Great Death[23] or the Big Sickness[105] (quserpak, literally "big cough") referred to the flu (influenza) pandemic (worldwide epidemic) of 1918. The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world's population[106]—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

In the U.S., about 28% of the population suffered, and 500,000 to 675,000 died.[107] Native American tribes were particularly hard hit. In the Four Corners area alone, 3,293 deaths were registered among Native Americans.[108] Entire villages perished in Alaska.[109] The influenza epidemic across the Seward Peninsula in 1918 and 1919 wiped out about 50 percent of the native population of Nome (later an epidemic diphteria during 1925 serum run to Nome), and 8 percent of the native population of Alaska. More than 1,000 people died in northwest Alaska,[110] and double that across the state,[110] and the majority were Alaska Natives. The Alaska Natives had no resistance to either of these diseases.[111] Native tribes had no immunity. As a result of epidemics, the Yup'ik world would go upside down; it would end.[23] From there it spread like a wildfire to all corners of Alaska, killing up to 60 percent of the Northern Indigenous and Alaskan Athabaskan people. This epidemic killed whole families and wiped out entire villages.[23] Many Kuskuqvamiut also migrated to Bristol Bay region from the Kuskokwim River region to the north of Bristol Bay, especially after the influenza epidemic of 1918–19.[19]

Modern tribal unions[edit]

Alaska Native tribal entities for the Yup'ik are recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs:

The Alaska Native Regional Corporations of the Yup'ik were established in 1971 when the United States Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

Community Native tribal entities Native Village Corporation Native Regional Corporation
Akiachak (Akiacuaq) Akiachak Native Community Akiachak Limited Calista Corporation
Akiak (Akiaq) Akiak Native Community Kokarmiut Corporation Calista Corporation
Alakanuk (Alarneq) Village of Alakanuk Alakanuk Corporation Calista Corporation
Aleknagik (Alaqnaqiq) Native Village of Aleknagik Aleknagik Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Andreafsky (today: St. Mary's) Yupiit of Andreafski Nerklikmute Native Corporation Calista Corporation
Aniak (Anyaraq) Village of Aniak Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
Atmautluak (Atmaulluaq) Village of Atmautluak Atmauthluak Limited Calista Corporation
Bethel (Mamterilleq) Orutsararmuit Native Village (aka Bethel) Bethel Native Corporation Calista Corporation
Bill Moores Slough (Konogkelyokamiut) ? Kongnigkilnomuit Yuita Corporation Calista Corporation
Chefornak (Cevv'arneq) Village of Chefornak Chefarnrmute Inc. Calista Corporation
Chevak (Cev'aq) Chevak Native Village Chevak Corporation Calista Corporation
Chuathbaluk (Curarpalek) Native Village of Chuathbaluk (Russian Mission, Kuskokwim) Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
Chuloonawick (? culunivik) Chuloonawick Native Village Chuloonawick Corporation Calista Corporation
Clarks Point (Saguyaq) Village of Clarks Point Saguyak Inc. Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Crooked Creek (Qipcarpak) Village of Crooked Creek Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
Dillingham (Curyung) Curyung Tribal Council (formerly the Native Village of Dillingham) Choggiung Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Eek (Ekvicuaq) EekNative Village of Eek Iqfijouq Co Calista Corporation
Egegik (Igyagiiq) Egegik Village Becharof Corporation Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Ekuk Native Village of Ekuk Ekuk Native Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Ekwok (Iquaq) Ekwok Village Ekwok Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Elim (Neviarcaurluq) Native Village of Elim Elim Native Corporation Bering Straits Native Corp.
Emmonak (Imangaq) Emmonak Village Emmonak Corporation Calista Corporation
Golovin (Cingik) Chinik Eskimo Community (Golovin) Golovin Native Corporation Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated
Goodnews Bay (Mamterat) Native Village of Goodnews Bay Kiutsarak Inc. Calista Corporation
Hamilton (Nunapigglugaq) Native Village of Hamilton Nunapiglluraq Corporation Calista Corporation
Holy Cross (Ingirraller) Holy Cross Village Deloycheet Inc. Doyon, Limited
Hooper Bay (Naparyaarmiut) Native Village of Hooper Bay Sea Lion Corporation Calista Corporation
Igiugig (Igyaraq) Igiugig Village Igiugig Native Corporation Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Iliamna (Illiamna) Village of Iliamna Iliamna Native Corporation Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Kasigluk (Kassigluq) Kaskigluk Traditional Elders Council (formerly the Native Village of Kasigluk) Kasigluk Inc. Calista Corporation
Kipnuk (Qipnek) Native Village of Kipnuk Kugkaktilk Limited Calista Corporation
Kokhanok (Qarr'unaq) Kokhanok Village Kokhanok Native Corporation Alaska Peninsula Corporation
Koliganek (Qalirneq) New Koliganek Village Council (formerly the Koliganek Village) Koliganek Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Kongiganak (Kangirnaq) Native Village of Kongiganak Qemirtalek Coast Corporation Calista Corporation
Kotlik (Qerrulliik) Village of Kotlik Kotlik Yupik Corporation Calista Corporation
Kwethluk (Kuiggluk) Organized Village of Kwethluk Kwethluk Inc. Calista Corporation
Kwigillingok (Kuigilnguq) Native Village of Kwigillingok Kwik Inc. Calista Corporation
Levelock (Liivlek) Levelock Village Levelock Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Lower Kalskag (Qalqaq) Village of Lower Kalskag Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
McGrath McGrath Native Village MTNT Limited Doyon, Limited
Manokotak (Manuquutaq) Manokotak Village Manokotak Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Marshall (Masserculleq) Native Village of Marshall (aka Fortuna Ledge) Maserculig Inc. Calista Corporation
Mekoryuk (Mikuryar) Native Village of Mekoryuk Nima Corporation Calista Corporation
Mountain Village (Asaacaryaraq) Asa'carsarmiut Tribe (formerly the Native Village of Mountain Village) Azachorok Inc. Calista Corporation
Nagamut ? Nagamut Limited Calista Corporation
Naknek (Nakniq) Naknek Native Village Paug-Vik Inc. Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Napaimute (Napamiut) Native Village of Napaimute Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
Napakiak (Naparyarraq) Native Village of Napakiak Napakiak Corporation Calista Corporation
Napaskiak (Napaskiaq) Native Village of Napaskiak Napaskiak Inc. Calista Corporation
Newhalen (Nuuriileng) Newhalen Village Newhalen Native Corporation Alaska Peninsula Corporation
New Stuyahok (Cetuyaraq) New Stuyahok Village Stuyahok Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Newtok (Niugtaq) Newtok Village Newtok Inc. Calista Corporation
Nightmute (Negtemiut) Native Village of Nightmute NGTA Inc. Calista Corporation
Nunam Iqua (Nunam Iqua) Native Village of Nunam Iqua (formerly the Native Village of Sheldon's Point) Swan Lake Corporation Calista Corporation
Nunapitchuk (Nunapicuar) Native Village of Nunapitchuk Nunapitchuk Limited Calista Corporation
Ohagamiut (Urr'agmiut) Village of Ohogamiut Ohog Inc. Calista Corporation
Oscarville (Kuiggayagaq) Oscarville Traditional Village Oscarville Native Corporation Calista Corporation
Paimiut Native Village of Paimiut Paimiut Corporation Calista Corporation
Pilot Station (Tuutalgaq) Pilot Station Traditional Village Pilot Station Native Corporation Calista Corporation
Pitkas Point (Negeqliim Painga) Native Village of Pitka's Point Pitkas Point Native Corporation Calista Corporation
Platinum (Arviiq) Platinum Traditional Village Arvig Inc. Calista Corporation
Portage Creek Portage Creek Village (aka Ohgsenakale) Ohgsenskale Corporation Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Quinhagak (Kuinerraq) Native Village of Kwinhagak (aka Quinhagak) Qanirtuuq Inc. Calista Corporation
Russian Mission (Iqugmiut) Iqurmiut Traditional Council (formerly the Native Village of Russian Mission) Russian Mission Native Corporation Calista Corporation
St. Marys (Negeqliq) Algaaciq Native Village (St. Mary's) St. Marys Native Corporation Calista Corporation
St. Michael (Taciq) Native Village of Saint Michael St. Michael Native Corporation Bering Straits Native Corp.
Scammon Bay (Marayaarmiut) Native Village of Scammon Bay Askinuk Corporation Calista Corporation
Sleetmute (Cellitemiut) Village of Sleetmute Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
South Naknek (Qinuyang) South Naknek Village Quinuyang Limited Alaska Peninsula Corporation
Stebbins (Tapraq) Stebbins Community Association Stebbins Native Corporation Bering Straits Native Corp.
Stony River Village of Stony River Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation
Togiak (Tuyuryaq) Traditional Village of Togiak Togiak Natives Limited Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Toksook Bay (Nunakauyaq) Nunakauyarmiut Tribe (formerly the Native Village of Toksook Bay) Nunakauiak Yupik Corporation Calista Corporation
Tuluksak (Tuulkessaaq) Tuluksak Native Community Tulkisarmute Inc. Calista Corporation
Tuntutuliak (Tuntutuliaq) Native Village of Tuntutuliak Tuntutuliak Land Limited Calista Corporation
Tununak (Tununeq) Native Village of Tununak Tununrmiut Rinit Corporation Calista Corporation
Twin Hills (Ingricuar) Twin Hills Village Twin Hills Native Corporation Bristol Bay Native Corporation
Umkumiute Umkumiute Native Village Umkumiute Limited Calista Corporation
Upper Kalskag (Qalqaq) Village of Kalskag Kuskokwim Corporation Calista Corporation

Notable Central Alaskan Yup'ik people[edit]

  • Uyaquq (Helper Neck), (c. 1860–1924), Moravian helper, author, translator, and inventor of a Yup'ik writing system[112]
  • Crow Village Sam (1893–1974)
  • Oscar Kawagley (Angayuqaq) (born 1934), a Yup'ik anthropologist, teacher and actor
  • Marie Meade, a Yugtun language expert[113]
  • Rita Pitka Blumenstein (1936–2021), the first certified traditional doctor in Alaska
  • Olga Michael (1916–1979), a priest's wife from Kwethluk village; Native Alaskan of Yup'ik origin.
  • Todd Palin (born 1964), an American (has mainly English and Yup'ik ancestry) oil field production operator, commercial fisherman and champion snowmobile racer. First Gentleman of Alaska (2006–2009).
  • Ramy Brooks (born 1968), a kennel owner and operator, motivational speaker, and dog musher, descended from the Yup'ik Eskimos and Athabaskan Indians
  • Callan Chythlook-Sifsof (born 1989), a Yup'ik-Inupiaq snowboarder olympian. Callan is the first Yup'ik Eskimo (Inuit) on the United States National Snowboard Team and Winter Olympic Team
  • Emily Johnson (born 1976), an American dancer, writer, and choreographer of Yup'ik descent
  • Lyman Hoffman, a Democratic member of the Alaska Senate
  • Mary Sattler (Mary Kapsner, born 1973), a Democratic politician in the U.S. state of Alaska
  • Walt Monegan (born 1951), the former Police Chief of Anchorage
  • Valerie Nurr'araaluk Davidson, Lieutenant Governor of Alaska
  • Byron Nicholai, viral musician

See also[edit]

  • Dear Lemon Lima, a family comedy feature film is about a 13-year-old half-Yup'ik girl navigating her way through first heartbreak and the perils of prep school in Fairbanks, Alaska.


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  51. ^ Alaska Native Collections : łeendenaalyoye “old-style dog harness”
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  61. ^ Lower Yukon School District
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  63. ^ Yupiit School District
  64. ^ Kashunamiut School District
  65. ^ Kuspuk School District
  66. ^ Southwest Region School District
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