Hi Friends! Yes, I’m back. I have a litany of excuses, but you don’t care! So back to the Native Appropriations!
Since Boston is on a record-breaking snow streak (already over 60 inches this season), I thought I would pull together a post about the ever-present “Eskimo” in advertising and pop culture. Because everyone knows, snow, ice, cold=”Eskimos”! (/sarcasm)
Alaska Native communities are often completely left out of conversations about race in the US, and even left out when we talk about Native communities. I lament the fact that the only representations we see of American Indians are the feathers-and-buckskin stereotypes, but I think it is even more apparent that the only images we see of Alaska Native peoples are the “Eskimo” images–furry hood, big parka, probably an igloo, maybe a dog sled…you know exactly what I’m talking about. So without further ado, some of these images:
A major offender, Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, OK. Their website says they are famous for the “smile seen round the world,” and you can buy a whole host of memorabilia featuring this image. Don’t worry, there’s also Mexico Joe’s, if you’re an equal opportunity stereotyper. The “eskimo” doesn’t even have eyes. Talk about de-humanizing.
My grandparents always had Eskimo Pies in the freezer when I was growing up. There are a lot of historic images of their mascot too, since they’ve been around since 1921:
Note the nonsense “language” they’re speaking, and implications that they’re unintelligent and “savage”.
There are so many examples to draw from–movies often exploit this stereotype, as we saw in The Simpsons Movie, and then later on the show, “Mukluks” and other arctic-inspired footwear have invaded fashion…I could go on and on.
These images collapse over 11 distinct Alaskan cultural groups into one stereotype, not to mention the other cultural groups in recognized in Canada. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is an amazing resource for learning about the indigenous people of Alaska, and they divide their exhibitions up into five cultural groupings (click to be taken to the web pages): Athabascan, Unangax & Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Yup’ik & Cup’ik, Inupiaq & St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida & Tsimshian.
I visited the ANHC on one of my admissions recruiting trips, and it was amazing. If you’re ever in Anchorage, I definitely recommend a visit.
There is also some debate surrounding the term “Eskimo”–which is usually a blanket term to describe Yupik and sometimes Inupiaq peoples. The accepted term in Canada and Greenland is “Inuit,” however it is not used in Alaska. Most Alaska Natives I know identify by their cultural group and consider the term “Eskimo” pejorative–but I also know a few who identify as “Yupik Eskimo” or other similar combinations. If there’s someone who knows more and wants to weigh in, please let me know.
I feel like this post is a little all over the place, but I just wanted to point out how ubiquitous these images are in our everyday lives. They are just as harmful as all the images of American Indians I post–reducing a heterogeneous group of people to one stereotyped image rooted in the past, in “magic” or fantasy, and erasing the current, contemporary presence of Alaska Native and Inuit peoples.