Alaska Native Collections

September 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Alaska, Education, Maps, Naming, Siberia | 4 Comments
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Today I want to share a very good general resource I found las week: the Alaska Native Collections site, by the Smithsonian institute. Despite its name, the site includes information about Alaska but also about Russia or other polar contruies. The site is not only beautifully designed but also packed with a lot of maps, photographies and information, allowing the visitor to learn about the arctic cultures easily. If you just want to learn a few basics, you can do a quick reading, if you want to deep more, you just need to open the “Read more” sections.

Through the Sharing Knowledge project, members of Indigenous communities from across Alaska and northeast Siberia are working with the Smithsonian Institution and the Anchorage Museum to interpret the materials, techniques, cultural meanings, history, and artistry represented by objects in the western arctic and subarctic collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. The Arctic Studies Center, which organized and implemented the project, is a special research program within the Department of Anthropology, NMNH, with offices in Washington and at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.

The goals of Sharing Knowledge are to make the Smithsonian collections accessible to all and to support cross-cultural learning among Indigenous home communities, in schools, and around the world. Interest in the extraordinary arts and cultural heritage of the North is truly global in scope. Participants in this project are Elders, scholars, artists, and teachers who invite all to explore, learn, and appreciate.

The combined holdings of NMNH and NMAI are vast—more than 30,000 items from Alaska and northeast Siberia, most collected between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century. The great majority has never been published, exhibited, or seen by contemporary residents of source communities in the North. Collaborative study of these collections for Sharing Knowledge began in 2001-2005, with a series of trips to the museums in Washington by more than forty Elders and regional representatives. This documentation process will continue as many more objects are brought from Washington to new Smithsonian exhibition galleries and Arctic Studies Center facilities at the Anchorage Museum, starting in 2010. Through its alliance with the Arctic Studies Center (since 1993) and its planned physical expansion to house these programs and collections, the Anchorage Museum has become an important Smithsonian partner in fostering the collaborative work of museums and Native communities.

Object records on this site include edited transcripts of museum discussions as well as summaries drawn from history, anthropology, and recorded oral tradition. The Cultures section includes regional introductions and information about contributors. The Resources section offers reading materials, web links, and a curriculum guide with lesson plans designed for middle and high school students.

The Sharing Knowledge site reflects the current state of an on-going project, with inevitable gaps and uneven representation of the different cultural regions. It will grow over time as more information is recorded and new contributors can be brought into the discussion. Please watch the site for continually updated materials and features.

Photography (C) Larry McNeil

As I mentioned this place has tones and tones of info about the cultures and the people, so it seems an unforgetable place to ask for help whenever I can manage to do the big trip!

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… and a bit more about Kamchatka

August 1, 2008 at 9:43 pm | Posted in History, Siberia | Leave a comment
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I am having a very bad week, but I just wanted to post some info I found the other day,  when I was searching stuff from Kamchatka. This comes from Social Geography of Kamchatka:


The Koryak Autonomous Okrug is supposedly the homeland for Koryaks, who are traditionally from the Kamchatka Peninsula and the surrounding mainland. Actually Itelmens, Chukchi, and Evens have also been indigenous to the area for centuries as well.

Before the Soviets closed the region after World War II, Kamchatka was a regular stop for trading ships from the United States, Japan, Canada, and many European countries. When I visit the smaller villages, where most of the population is native, elders love to tell me about all the great stuff their parents bought from Americans. Men tell me about Winchesters, knives, and animal traps. Women sometimes show me tea kettles which have become family heirlooms.

Yeltsin opened the closed region in 1991, and it is quickly integrating into the Pacific Rim social and economic region. Local authorities prefer to keep a tight leash on foreigners, however, and travel around Kamchatka and the surrounding mainland (Magadan Oblast and Chukotka Okrug) is complicated, or worse, when you don’t have all your documents in order. No matter what the local consulate or embassy tells you, you will need the names of the major towns that you plan to visit on your visa. If you want a year-long, uninterrupted stay in Kamchatka, you need a multi-entry visa. Standard, three-month visas will be renewed only for three additional months in Kamchatka, no matter what. I recommend contacting my favorite Kamchatkan travel agent, KamchatIntour, for the latest information on travel in Kamchatka.

The Koryak Autonomous Region (Okrug) is located in the northern part of the peninsula and includes part of the surrounding mainland. It is about the size of Arizona with a population of about 35,000 people. Only one-fifth of those are Koryaks. Chukchi, Itel’mens, and Evens constitute the other native groups in the Regions, but Russians and Ukrainians make up over 75% of the total population. A steady emigration of non-natives back to their homes in the European part of the former Soviet Union has changed these number since the 1989 census, but reliable current statistics are not available.

The Region is divided into four districts or counties (rayoni): Tigil, Karaga, Oliutor, and Penzhina. The Regional capital, Palana, is the largest town with about 4000 people. Karaginskii District, capital Ossora, is the most populous and developed area. The northern districts of Penzhinskii and Oliutorskii have the most indigenous people who still use their traditional language in everyday life.

Well, a bit more of information. It says that they still use their traditional language in everyday life, this is crucial! So good news from Kamchatka!

Who they are: start dealing with naming

March 7, 2008 at 12:54 am | Posted in Naming | Leave a comment
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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the word ‘eskimo’ in an English composition. My teacher pointed to me that this was considered a politically incorrect and pejorative word. I had wrote it because, as a non-native English speaker, I liked how it sounded, and it was also pretty similar to the word I use in my own language, ‘esquimal’. Besides, in Linguistics there’s a group of languages called Eskimo-Aleut spoken in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, so I didn’t make me suspicious about being insensitive. But that worried me; it was a bad beginning for my trip starting naming contemptuously the people who I wanted to visit.

Basically -that’s pretty funny I guess – it’s a problem of terminology and naming, and now that I’ve started investigating it, it’s too much for me. I’m copying here everything I’ve founded in Dictionary.com, classified by geographical areas. Of course, opinions, corrections and comments are more than appreciated.

Alaska, Canada and Greenland
Eskimo
1.a member of an indigenous people of Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and northeastern Siberia, characterized by short, stocky build and light-brown complexion.
2.either of two related languages spoken by the Eskimos, one in Greenland, Canada, and northern Alaska, the other in southern Alaska and Siberia.Compare Inuit, Yupik.Usage note The name Inuit, by which the native people of the Arctic from northern Alaska to western Greenland call themselves, has largely supplanted Eskimo in Canada and is used officially by the Canadian government. Many Inuit consider Eskimo derogatory, in part because the word was, erroneously, long thought to mean literally “eater of raw meat.” Inuit has also come to be used in a wider sense, to name all people traditionally called Eskimo, regardless of local self-designations. Nonetheless, Eskimo continues in use in all parts of the world, especially in historical and archaeological contexts and in reference to the people as a cultural and linguistic unity. The term Native American is sometimes used to include Eskimo and Aleut peoples. See also Indian.
Inuit
1.a member of the Eskimo peoples inhabiting northernmost North America from northern Alaska to eastern Canada and Greenland.
2.the language of the Inuit, a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family comprising a variety of dialects.
Also, Innuit.
Also called Inupik.
Usage Note: The preferred term for the native peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland is now Inuit, and the use of Eskimo in referring to these peoples is often considered offensive, especially in Canada. Inuit, the plural of the Inuit word inuk, “human being,” is less exact in referring to the peoples of northern Alaska, who speak dialects of the closely related Inupiaq language, and it is inappropriate when used in reference to speakers of Yupik, the Eskimoan language branch of western Alaska and the Siberian Arctic. See Usage Note at Eskimo.

Aleut
1.also, Aleutian. a member of a people native to the Aleutian Islands and the western Alaska Peninsula who are related physically and culturally to the Eskimos.
2.ahe language of the Aleuts, distantly related to Eskimo: a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family.

Husky
1.Eskimo dog.
2.Siberian Husky.
3.Canadian Slang.
a. an Inuit.

b. the language of the Inuit.
Usage note: Origin: 1870–75; by ellipsis from husky dog, husky breed; cf. Newfoundland and Labrador dial. Husky a Labrador Inuit, earlier Huskemaw, Uskemaw, ult. < the same Algonquian source as Eskimo.

Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola peninsula

Sami
1.A member of a people of nomadic herding tradition inhabiting Lapland.
2.Any of the Finnic languages of the Sami.

Lapp
1.Also called Laplander . A member of a Finnic people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and adjacent regions.
2.Also called Lappish. any of the languages of the Lapps, closely related to Finnish.
Also called Sami.

Siberia

Ostyak
1.a member of the nomadic Ugrian people living in northwestern Siberia (east of the Urals)
2.a Ugric language (related to Hungarian) spoken by the Ostyak [syn: Khanty]

Chukchi
1.a member of a Paleo-Asiatic people of northeastern Siberia.
2.the Chukotian language of the Chukchi people, noted for having different pronunciations for men and women.

Evenki
1.a member of a Siberian people living mainly in the Yakut Autonomous Republic, Khabarovsk territory, and Evenki National District in the Russian Federation.
2.the Tungusic language spoken by the Evenki.

Samoyed
1.a member of a Uralic people dwelling in W Siberia and the far NE parts of European Russia.
2.Also, Samoyedic. a subfamily of Uralic languages spoken by the Samoyed people.

Usage Note Siberian Mongolian people, 1589, from Rus. samoyed, lit. “self-eaters, cannibals” (the first element cognate with Eng. same, the second with O.E. etan “to eat”). The native name is Nenets. As the name of a type of dog (once used as a working dog in the Arctic) it is attested from 1889.

Nenets
1.A member of a reindeer-herding people of of extreme northwest Russia along the coast of the White, Barents, and Kara seas.
2.The Uralic language of this people.

In both senses also called Samoyed.

Japan

Ainu
1.A member of an indigenous people of Japan, now inhabiting parts of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands.
2.The language of the Ainu.
3.caucasoid people in Japan and eastern Russia, 1819, from Ainu, lit. “man.”

As it uses to happen, not only is the problem solved, but is it’s bigger. As far as I know, and though it’s not on the dictionary, ‘lapp’ and ‘lappish’ aren’t the right words, though I don’t know if it’s because its pejorative or just inadequate. I’ve put my head around Wikipedia, but the maps where so colorful and the words so complicated that I’ve decided that mt head was not prepared enough to hold out for such a terminological invasion. I’ll carry on another day.

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