What is in a Name? The Predicament of Ethnonyms in the Sugpiaq-Alutiiq Region of Alaska

Medeia Csoba DeHass

Abstract

“Aleut,” “Alutiiq,” “Sugpiaq,” “Russian,” “Pacific Eskimo,” “Unegkuhmiut,” and “Chugach Eskimo” are all different names that have been used to identify the group of Native people living on the Lower Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. While most of these ethnonyms are partially based on particular characteristics, they also carry specific social-political agendas that are embedded in the names themselves. Names are a powerful medium in communicating meaning about historical context and the actors who move within specific historical events. In this paper I draw on historical and ethnographic information to shed light on the different nomenclature used in the past, as well as currently in this region. By organizing names into a schema through an historical overview, I highlight the significance of the relationship between historical legacies and contemporary articulations of ethnonyms. Furthermore, after exploring the origins of ethnonyms and analyzing the different implications that are closely associated with them, the paper concludes with a better approach for understanding agency in the politics of ethnic identity construction.

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