Eskimo Kisses

Learning about my daughter's ethnicity has been enlightening

My daughter is an Eskimo.

Yes, that is a real thing.

She could also be referred to as Yupik or Inuit, but on her Certificate of Indian Blood—Eskimo is the designation she has been given. Her biological mother is 100 percent Eskimo, and her biological father is likely at least half.

Thus, my daughter is an Eskimo.

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Living in Alaska now, my understanding of the Yupik culture is vastly different from what it was as a child growing up in Arizona. I have traveled to native villages, spent nights in huts, eaten traditional foods, and witnessed firsthand the competitive games they each embrace. For four years I worked for an organization dedicated to serving the indigenous people of Western Alaska. My education in that time has been vast.

But when I was a little girl, if someone had mentioned Eskimos to me, I would have immediately conjured up some cartoon image in my head. It would have involved an igloo and animal skin parkas, likely with a pet walrus in the background and plenty of Eskimo kisses to be shared.

The nose-to-nose smooch I believed existed to prevent lips from sticking together in the cold arctic air. The truth behind Eskimo kissing is that it started as a greeting for people who often had much of their faces covered in the cold. With only the noses exposed, only the noses could touch.

Growing up outside of Alaska, my understanding of Eskimos was wildly inaccurate.

And Igloos aren’t a real thing. At least, they aren’t traditional housing for anyone. Eskimos have real homes, with real walls, much like yours or mine. Igloos may be built as temporary shelter (and plenty of Alaskan children grow up building snow huts in the winter just for fun) but they aren’t ever really a permanent residence.

The animal skin parkas are real, though, even if the pet walruses were created purely from my imagination.

The point is that growing up outside of Alaska, my understanding of Eskimos was wildly inaccurate. In fact, I am sure at some point in my youth that I believed they were fictional characters created only for storybooks and cartoons.

Now I know better.

Keeping my daughter linked to her Eskimo culture has always been important to me. In part this will be possible because of the ties we maintain with her birth family, but I want to be able to bridge that connection for her, myself, as well. It is helpful that I have the background I do and the knowledge of various Yupik events that take place all around town, because as she gets older we will be attending plenty of these gatherings.

My family is committed to this goal as well. In fact, the day she was born, my father sat in the hospital room looking up various Yupik words to whisper her way. He drilled her birth mother about the terms for grandfather and baby. Even just this weekend he was searching through his smartphone for new words he hadn’t yet learned. It's something made all the more sweet when you understand that my father is a man who has never lived more than 20 miles from where he was born, and who has never before shown any interest in foreign languages of any kind.

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Never until now, with a granddaughter from a culture he suddenly wants to know everything about.

For my part, my girl and I share plenty of Eskimo kisses. From the moment I met her, that little nose of hers has made my insides squishy—I am forever nuzzling against it simply because I can.

Because I am mama, and she is my little Eskimo.

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