As other leagues rethink racist team names, it’s time to rename the Edmonton Eskimos

“The Edmonton Eskimos say they will be ‘ramping up consultation with the Inuit community.’ That’s the same thing they said last time.”

When the Edmonton Eskimos released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, the team was criticized for not addressing the controversy about its racist team name. (File photo)

By Norma Dunning, University of Alberta

In the space of a few hours on July 3, three North American sports teams announced they were going to reassess their racist names.

Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins of the National Football League and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League have for years resisted calls to drop their team nicknames. But recent worldwide protests about systemic racism have forced the sports franchises to address the issue once again.

As an Inuit writer, scholar and researcher, I’ve been an outspoken critic of Edmonton’s refusal to rename its CFL team. I have never sat down and figured out how many hours I’ve logged into something that appears so very simple. Changing a sports team name. Getting rid of a racist moniker. Eliminating discrimination. Tossing out the detritus of bias and bigotry that lays on the field of Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

I have never given into the justifications others use for keeping the name: fan loyalty to a team they love; all the money that they have invested into Eskimos merchandise; how revered and idolized the players are; the countless Grey Cups and the benefits the city of Edmonton has gained through the team’s many wins.

I’m often told that it’s only football and the name is harmless. Harmless to whom? Harmless to the future generations of Inuit children who will grow up hearing that word — that one word, “Eskimos” — and be conditioned into believing that it’s OK?

A name no one uses

It’s OK to take the smallest group of Indigenous Canadians and maintain the use of a word that is no longer in use in academia, in news stories, in present-day anthropology texts or even colouring books?

What are we supposed to do, as the people on the other side of the Eskimo coin – take a knee in support of fans who apparently have so very much disposable income that they can invest thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime to show off their greedy pride? After all, “Eskimos” is only a word, so why couldn’t fans rally around a new team name?

Last year, in its most recent attempt to justify keeping the racist nickname, the team made a trip to Canada’s North with much fanfare and media coverage. They talked to the “real” Eskimos, the ones who live in the Arctic. The team returned to Edmonton and said “no consensus emerged to support a name change.”

How comforting it must have been for the team to have found that one Inuk male who had no problem with the name. And that’s all it takes. It takes only one positive comment to justify keeping a name that made the team millions of dollars off the backs of Inuit Canadians.

Support BLM, but not Inuit

On June 3, the team posted a statement on Instagram in support of Black Lives Matter that said: “We seek to understand what it must feel like to live in fear … To feel undervalued. To feel persecuted … We stand with those who are outraged, who are hurt and who hope for a better tomorrow.”

We, as Inuit Canadians, understand what it must feel like to live in the fear of changing a team name.

We understand the importance of being able to wear the Edmonton Eskimos merchandise when exercising or drinking with friends in the comfort of your home while relaxing and watching the game.

We very much understand as Inuit Canadians what it feels like to be undervalued.

We understand what it is like to feel used … to feel persecuted at the mention of removing the word Eskimos. Add to that the reliving of the comments on social media any time the subject of removing the word Eskimos is brought to the attention of mainstream Canada, all while trying to survive a global pandemic and living as the smallest Indigenous Canadian population with the highest rates of poverty, food scarcity, over-crowded housing and teen suicide.

We stand as Inuit who are outraged, who are hurt by the use of the word “Eskimos.” And we too hope for a better tomorrow.

In announcing it was once again reassessing its name, the Edmonton Eskimos said they will be “ramping up consultation with the Inuit community.” That’s the same thing they said last time, yet they ultimately decided to keep the name.

What will be different this time? If the team wants to ramp up consultations, I hope they give me a call.The Conversation

Norma Dunning, Professor, University of Alberta

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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(37) Comments:

  1. Posted by Fred on

    I hope they ask me too! As an Eskimo, I and many others have no problem with the name! We don’t find it racist!

    • Posted by Speak for Yourself on

      As an Inuk, I do find the name offensive. As do other Inuit. It’s a word that has been used negatively, in my experience. Just change the name already!

    • Posted by lena on

      I’m very okay with it too
      it doesn’t brother me at all

  2. Posted by No Moniker on

    What the author seems to ignore is that the justifications for keeping the name Eskimo are grounded as much in identity as are the arguments against its use. To ignore this is and claim it is about merchandising or money is both dismissive and intellectually dishonest.
    Arguing that it will be psychologically harmful for Inuit children to grow up hearing the word Eskimo is presented as an axiomatic truth, so obvious it need not be explained or justified as to why it is true. It is a derogatory term after all, isn’t it? Certainly, within the silos of academia and among the clearly more enlightened urban and intellectual class of Inuit, this is not to be disputed. To dare question it is quite heretical, and a suspicious signal that one might be that most evil of things today, a ‘racist’ (Yikes! Be careful what you say). But for those who do not so easily make these connections one might wonder, well why is that?
    Also, for the author, who claims to be a researcher, to argue that “It takes only one positive comment to justify keeping [the] name…” (referring to Lorne Kusugak) is also a misrepresentation of reality. As a scientist and researcher wouldn’t it be incumbent on the author to uncover what level of consensus there actually is? I don’t have that answer but suspect the number of Inuit who support the club name is sizable. Either way, let’s find out before casually dismissing them and leaving ourselves open to accusations of elitism and classism, which to me seems to underlie the divide between these camps.
    *Note the comments by Inuit in support of the club name here:
    The message above, it seems, is that these opinions don’t actually exist, which is to say they don’t matter (a further negation of identity?)

  3. Posted by emuse on

    Thank you for sharing this Norma. I really hope that your opinion piece will make some Inuit who are in support of the name reexamine why they feel such pride in the team name. As a fellow Inuk woman, I completely agree with your position.
    I know that not a lot of Inuit (at least in Nunavut), don’t know too much about our history from the last 100-150 years. They know things about residential school, the sled dog killings, and things like that. But there is so much more… things that I only started to learn about as an adult because of my line of work. How much Inuit had to fight, tooth and nail, just to get to where we are now, and our people are still suffering. Changing the name is a small step, but a step in the right direction.

  4. Posted by Peter on

    I think we will have to wait until the younger generation gets into leadership roles to start making changes, these older fellas know only one thing.

  5. Posted by pfft, big deal! on

    What is the point of changing the name? Like someone posted a couple of years ago, Inuit should be honored, not offended. It is so simple.

    We seem to be the racist ones and so unnecessarily defensive about a menial thing like a team’s name.

    • Posted by Northern Quebec Inuk on

      please say what you just said, but veryyyyy slowwwwwwwly. lol.

      Call them Eskimos instead of Inuit and see what people will do. Call everyone in the street an Eskimo if you’re so proud and think its “Honourable”, say it proudly, post and start calling everyone an Eskimo.

      Eskimo ain’t even an Inuktitut (Inuktut for you I guess) word. What makes you think I want to call myself something that makes no sense in my language? but accept something that means something else other than a “Person” in my language? The wild wild west is as wild as it gets

  6. Posted by Elegant Compromise on

    Why don’t they call themselves the Edmonton Paleo Eskimos? The “Paleo” sounds cool (like maybe they’re strong like Neanderthals, and wield clubs), and you would still get the Arctic chic of “Eskimo” without offending Inuit.

    Paleo Eskimo refers to the distinct people who inhabited the Canadian (and other regions of the) Arctic before arrival of the Inuit one thousand years ago.

    I know this would be OK because ultra-PC Iqaluit has an annual festival named after the last group of Paleo Eskimos, the Tuniit or Dorset peoples, even though these people are no more and aren’t around to voice any objections to Iqalummiut appropriating and lampooning their identity for the “Toonik Tyme” festival.

    • Posted by Sir Topham Hatt on

      Funny, but in 2010 the Inuit Circumpolar Council moved to replace the term paleo-Eskimo, with paleo-Inuit, this was later endorsed by Arctic Archaeologist Max Friesen.
      There are problems with this in my opinion as the ‘paleo’s were not genetically related to their successors, the Inuit. Yet calling them paleo-Inuit seems to imply they were also Inuit–they weren’t. To make a comparison, if we called a certain group Russian, for example, and delineated an earlier group we called ‘paleo-Russian’ we would probably assume the paleo group to be ancestors of the latter the Russians.
      Yes, politics and language. We can all thank Michel Foucault and the zeal with which young academics and transgressive young professors who wanted to make a name for their generation for adopting his academics for these strange manifestations of thought today.

    • Posted by UNGAVA on

      If where going to get all politcally correct , go with Neanderathals , Paleo sounds tacky

  7. Posted by Curiouser & Curiouser on

    As a proud Eskimo person, I see nothing wrong with the
    name of EDMONTON ESKIMO.

    We need a fair vote for this issue, throughout Nunavut, and
    bringing back Leona Aglukak, who knows what she is doing,
    would be great.

    Good Evening to ye all ! !

    • Posted by NDP voter on

      We had a vote…it was called an election…she lost.

      • Posted by Yeah on

        But what was the voter turnout? Maybe now we’ll all go put in our vote next time. I as an inuk have no problem with the name. People should put this effort into more pressing matters.

    • Posted by Oh Ima on

      The word is a derogatory term derived from Cree word! Nothing against Cree but it defines us Inuit in such a narrow and simple term! My parents and other elders never called themselves Eskimo cause they know who they were and are! The term justified kidnapping of our brother and cousin to go residential school because government and church officials saw as less than human! Number of deaths in police custody is a direct result as police see as less than them because they see as Eskimos unconsciously as a result of the racist team name! They see us as mascots! Sadly other Inuit are so colonized and need to be liked so much that they’ll defend the name! I’m not Eskimo I’m Ukulsilangmiut and my parents always told me to be proud of that! It’s pathetic that team owners are given to threat of losing a major sponsor not to doing the right thing!

  8. Posted by Toonik’s Grandfather on

    Inuit always call themself Inuit (since Adam and Eve, lol). There is no issue with the name “Eskimo” in Edmonton Eskimos, we see it with pride. But, for few who are looking for their footing in Inuit lang. and culture they might think it offensive but it’s not. All of the sudden, the few adds all kinds of things to support their arguement (BLM, Inuit dog slaughter etc, etc.). To many Inuit (former Eskimos, lol), it part of our Eskimo history, Canadian history. EE won many titles……I like to think because of their name.

  9. Posted by Sponsors on

    Canadian North is a sponsor of this racist team.

  10. Posted by Artie on

    Let all Inuit vote on the topic. Simple exercise. The Edmonton football team probably doesn’t care re: name change. Rebranding & increased merchandise sales be great! new revenue stream. If team name is changed there will be a LOT of real pissed off Inuit from the Western half of Nunavut & NWT Beaufort Sea area.

    • Posted by Inuit Vote on

      Voter turnout is notoriously low. Any vote wouldn’t reflect the true feelings. More than 50% of the population wouldn’t bother to vote.

  11. Posted by Eskimo for life! on

    I like the word Eskimo, please do not change it, these modern times suck, everybody is too sensitive now.

  12. Posted by Putuyi on

    They should rename their team to: “Edmonton Whiteskins”, or maybe “Edmonton Rabbits”?!

  13. Posted by I live in the Arctic on

    I as a Inuk do not see the word Eskimo as racist, I know who I am and who my people are, those who use it in a racist way will always use it that way, they’re angry and insecure about who they are.

    We’re all humans let treat each other with kindess and humanity.

  14. Posted by Kendorffalorfa on

    My goodness. You are thinking way too much about this issue. Of course racism is here, there, everywhere globally. But there are good organizations who claim not to be racist and show it by supporting their communities in some way, and on the other side of the coin your guess is better than mine. The first time i heard of the football team’s name i was proud of it.

  15. Posted by Embarrassing for a Prof on

    The first thing that stood out for me was the author’s faulty paragraph on Inuit justification for keeping the name, fan loyalty, money paid for merchandise, revered and idolized players, and Grey Cup wins. I’ve heard many Inuit speak up in defence of the name, and these are arguments I rarely hear.
    The thing that blew my socks off was, “How comforting it must have been for the team to have found that one Inuk male who had no problem with the name”. Wow. How isolated in your bubble must you be not to realize that many Inuit not only aren’t bothered by the name, but enjoy it. For somebody that’s a university professor, this statement is embarrassing. To use her academia to silence the opinions of many other Inuit because they don’t align with her own, without any evidence to back it up. Awful.
    Let’s also look at how the author uses gender in that statement to try to invalidate an opinion. Why say, “that one Inuk male who had no problem”, instead of, “that one Inuk who had no problem”? This debate has nothing to do with gender, yet the author decides to say the support is male. Why? Because in today’s world of constant political correctness and social justice policing, men are seen as ignorant of what women know “is right”. You can also see this in the comment from “emuse”, who says, “As a fellow Inuk woman”. Why not, “As a fellow Inuk”?

  16. Posted by Reason > Emotive Rhetoric on

    “To use her academia to silence the opinions of many other Inuit because they don’t align with her own, without any evidence to back it up.”

    Exactly, and this is a supposed ‘researcher’ making statements with no obvious basis in reality. How ironic is this?

  17. Posted by The Nerve to Question on

    So who is Norma Dunning and what legitimacy does she have to speak on this issue? A web site says she has never been north although she is said to have roots in Whale Cove. Can someone explain who she is? Or will she and her supporters hide behind the old trope that you can’t question someone’s claimed indigeneity? So who is she?

    • Posted by Age of the Solipsists on

      I am surprised Nunatsiaq let this comment be put up. I agree with it though, there is a lot mileage to be had in making moralistic arguments based on identity. It is hard to ignore all these factors and how they might motivate an individual to write such an emotionally driven piece, especially when their connections to Inuit culture and society are so hard to see.

    • Posted by Instant Experts on

      Some experts came to our community and really messed
      things up with there racism.
      Telling the council that only Inuit people should be involved
      in the evening activities for the youth.
      Why the council supported them, Lord knows !
      Well the experts got there wish, no more activities, our leaders
      did not respond or give a damn.
      Well done.

  18. Posted by B Aglukark on

    It is important to understand that while Mr. Natan Obed is a designated head of an Inuit Organization which represents Inuit regions across Canada’s north (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, ITK) he was not elected by the majority of the population that his organization serves. Instead, he was appointed by the heads of four Inuit organizations (known as voting members of ITK’s Board). Mr. Obed’s appointment represents the decision of those four presidents, not the population of Inuit as a whole. In that way, Mr. Obed is not himself the voice of Inuit of Canada.

    We are aware of the fact that many programs are implemented by the organization he leads and that those programs are geared towards improving the lives of Inuit. Let me be clear, based on self-reports on several social media outlets it is very clear many Inuit in Nunavut do not see themselves as mascots as Mr. Obed claims, majority of us are not affronted by the Edmonton Eskimos’ team name.

    We do not see the team and its name as being “play things”, and that our ethnicity is left to be viewed as just a representation of a mascot or by a mascot for monetary gains. In fact, majority of the Inuit are pleased that a professional sports organization proudly proclaims the name known worldwide “Eskimo” as their team name.

    We strongly urge and hope that the Edmonton Eskimos franchise will keep on using the name Eskimos.

    Mr. Obed has the luxury of the microphone and attention of media outlets, and he is abusing this system. As of today. he has not reached out to the entire Inuit population about “his” feelings and using the organization as a personal tool to voice his concerns. This has to stop. He has overstepped his position on this issue. He has not been elected to speak on behalf of Inuit on these issues without consulting the Inuit population. If he intends to continue holding the position in regards with the name Edmonton Eskimos’, he should seek guidance from the population that his organization is intended to represent. According to its website, ITK’s work “includes research, advocacy, public outreach and education on the issues affecting our population.” I would argue that the issue of the Edmonton Eskimo’s team name does not affect our population and that the time and energy of ITK’s president and his team would be better spent focussed on other and more pressing issues that they are working on (housing, health, mental health and education, just to name a few).

    He needs to stop bringing this issue of the Edmonton Eskimos’ team name to the table. Edmonton Eskimos is not an ethnic slur.

    • Posted by Thank you, Natan Obed on

      I am an Inuk, not an Eskimo! Don’t speak for me and say the word is ok. Thank goodness that there are some leaders with balls! Not like others who will take whatever name gets slapped on them.

  19. Posted by Peter Tookalook on

    I hope they keep the name, it put us on a map for the rest of the world, In fact I am one proud Eskimo, I hope they keep the name so I will keep the world in their head.

  20. Posted by neighbor on

    The crees of Northern Quebecs word for an Inuk originally,is, escheemau, meaning raw meat eaters in cree. very non-offensive,,,if we let the word Eskimos out, it sort of forgetting us in a way or like erasing our idendity. I’m a raw meat eater myself and sure don’t need a reminder and don’t want to be forgotten. By the way, I’m an Eskimo fan.

  21. Posted by B Aglukark on

    It’s one thing to openly debate an issue with honesty respecting ones background and intentions through that process. Then, it’s another to lie and have frauds-self seeking individuals who play with the system.
    How do we know those providing comments to this article are actually Inuit?
    How do we know you ain’t some dude with no Inuit ethnicity just crying foul?
    Provide your real name, don’t hide behind an alias.
    This one thing we know and are sure of. Edmonton Eskimos as professional sports organization has never “once” used the name in inappropriately , or with ill- will. A name they use with pride -by the team, the city, the province and its fans throughout the country.

  22. Posted by Jeff on

    Brian you nailed it right on, you understand the Inuit of Nunavut better than all the elites and staff at all these Inuit orgs.and don’t let a few talk for the majority of the people,there is not enough being said to keep the elites in check.keep at it

  23. Posted by Eskimo Power on

    Hi Edmonton. Keep the name. Who is the author? Somebody should have a vote. Never mind the few Eskimos who are against it. The Eskimo majority loves the name.

  24. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    The academic is writing her opinion piece, first, from her point of view, not the Inuit point of view.

    “It’s OK to take the smallest group of Indigenous Canadians and maintain the use of a word that is no longer in use in academia…”

  25. Posted by Eskimo on

    Eskimo is just a word! not racists! This give pride to Eskimo’s in rural communities where infrastructure is very lacking to social issues, health, infrastructure, education, and mental issues! Who is presenting Eskimo’s in CFL!?! Politicians or publicity stunt’s???

    Now who is going to promote Eskimo’s???

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