Yup'ik and Cup'ik peoples from Southwestern Alaska - the Genuine People - are named for the dialects of the languages they speak. Like the Yupik of St. Lawrence Island and the Iñupiaq of Arctic Alaska, the Yup'ik and Cup'ik rely on a subsistence lifestyle for their livelihood, hunting, fishing and gathering local foods. Elders tell stories of traditional ways of life to teach younger generations about their heritage, and storytelling through dance celebrates everyday activities and special events in the life of the community.
Traditional housing styles and the materials used to build them vary from group to group, but semi-subterranean huts with underground tunnels for entrances were common, particularly in the more northern communities. Among the Yup’ik and Cup’ik, males old enough to leave their mothers lived with the men in a qasgiq, or men’s house, which also served as a community center. Women lived in an ena, where the cooking and child-rearing was done.
Socially, villages were organized around extended family groups, and rank was determined by the skills an individual offered the community. Shamans played—and still play—an important role in many villages, healing the sick and praying for good hunting or weather.
In Bethel, visit the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, where Elders share language, culture and arts programs. The Center's collections include historic artifacts and modern designs.