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Alutiiq - What is in a Name?

The term "Alutiiq" was first adopted during the Russian era as a way of saying Aleuty (Russian for "Aleuts") in the Kodiak Native language (Leer 2001; Holmberg 1985). It came into use again in the 1970s and 1980s, and was selected purposefully by Kodiak leaders as the name for the Alutiiq Museum. While Alutiiq is the most commonly used self-designator on Kodiak today, others people from our  language family choose the self designator “Sugpiaq.” This is especially true on the Kenai Peninsula, and among those who have relocated to Anchorage where contact with other Native groups is common. Like the terms Yup’ik and Iñupiaq, Sugpiaq means “real person” (Counceller 2010). For those who choose Sugpiaq, the term is felt to be more traditional. In contrast, proponents of the term Alutiiq feel their choice acknowledges the unique Russian history of the region, while also reflecting the Native language pronunciation. Others are simply tired of changing the name of their cultural group.  To speak of the Native people as a group, one would use the plural forms Alutiit or Sugpiat. Click on the audio files below to hear the words.

Alutiit Alutiiq people (plural)
Sugpiat "Real People" (plural)

The terms used to describe the language typically follow the use of self-designators. Elders who call themselves Aleut usually use the same word for the language. People who prefer Alutiiq will often call their Native language “the Alutiiq Language,” or “Alutiit’stun” meaning “like an Alutiiq” or “in the Alutiiq way.” Those who go by Sugpiaq typically refer to the language as Sugt’stun, which means “like a person” or in the “Sugpiaq way.” Because members of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq community are used to interacting with others who choose different self-designators, it is common to hear the language referred to by any and all of these terms in one conversation! For the purposes of this collection of lessons, the primary term used will be Alutiiq, but it should be understood that either term is acceptable.

Another term used for the Alutiiq people, particularly by scholars, is Pacific Eskimo. The term emphasizes linguistic and cultural connections between Alutiiq culture and neighboring coastal cultures to the North, but it has never been used locally. Pacific Eskimo is not well liked in the Alutiiq region, as few people consider themselves “Eskimos.” Some even consider the term pejorative (Pullar 1992). However, there is a growing awareness that our language is related to the languages spoken in other parts of Alaska, and that it is part of a large language family that spans the North American Arctic.

References

Counceller, April Gale Laktonen
2010         Niugneliyukut (We Are Making New Words): A Community Philosophy of Language Revitalization. Doctoral  dissertation, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Holmberg, Heinrich, J.
1985        Holmberg's Ethnographic Sketches. Translated by Marvin W. Falk, edited by Fritz Jaensch. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.

Leer, Jeff
1978        A Conversational Dictionary of Kodiak Alutiiq. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
2001        The Alutiiq Language. In Looking Both Ways. A Crowell, A. Steffian and G. Pullare (Eds.) Pp. 31. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.

Pullar, Gordon L.
1992        Ethnic Identity, Cultural Pride, and Generations of Baggage: A Personal Experience. Arctic Anthropology 29(2):182–191.