Historical Events

The Eskimo of the far North was healthy and lived to a very great age.

Seventeen Years among the Eskimos

 

When Dr. John Simpson published the account of a two-year study in northern Alaska in 1855, he put his finger on a statistical difficulty when he said of primitive Eskimos that they “take no heed to number the years as they pass.”

At Point Barrow, a statistically valuable numbering was begun in the 1890's through missionary recording of births. The tally has established that in northern Alaska long life is not common. This, along with similar twentieth century statistical results from other northern fields, has strengthened two sets of convictions — the convictions of the frontier doctors and the convictions of their critics.


The medical missionaries, already committed to the opinion that primitive Eskimos were long-lived, see in the up-to-date figures confirmation of what they believe themselves to have observed, that Europeanization breaks down formerly good native health and thus tends to shorten life. But the critics of the missionaries, who always disbelieved what to them was a baseless legend, see in these first available statistics proof that the frontier doctors of the nineteenth century were deluded, and that primitive Eskimos were never either healthy or long-lived. I shall quote statements by a typical frontier doctor and one by a typical critic.


On behalf of the medical missionaries, and the rest of the frontiersmen, let Dr. Henry Greist speak (from Seventeen Years among the Eskimos, previously quoted at greater length): “For untold centuries ... the Eskimo of the far North was healthy ... He lived to a very great age.”

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