Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Dan Flores


Alaska, Epidemic, Eskimo, History, Shamans, Yup'ik


University of Montana


This paper examines the history of the Yup'ik Eskimos of western Alaska and explores how their shamans shaped the response to introduced epidemic disease. As in the experiences of so many other Native American groups, disease epidemics played an important role in the history of relations between the Yup'ik Eskimos and white settlers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I argue here that while the Yup'ik Eskimos grappled with the devastating effects of introduced diseases, they did not repudiate their shamans and traditional faith, which sets the Yup'ik people apart from other Native Americans. Before contact with Europeans, the Yup'ik people relied on their shamans for physical and psychological healing. Despite challenges from missionaries, traders, and disease, the Yup'ik Eskimos retained faith in their shamans well into the twentieth century. The shamans' enduring power as healers rested on specific features of the Yup'ik belief system and the inability of western medicine to cure disease at crucial historical moments. During Russian rule in western Alaska, the shamans maintained their influence over the people by leading the Yup'ik Eskimos to incorporate new diseases, like smallpox, into their world view. Later, American missionaries and their western medicines brought enormous pressure onto the shamans to relinquish control. However, widespread disillusionment following the terrible double epidemic of 1900 encouraged the Yup'ik people to return to their shamans.



© Copyright 2011 Ahnie Litecky