Opinion: Edmonton Eskimos Name Change Long Overdue

Edmonton Eskimos
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The international outcry surrounding the death of George Floyd in police custody has made its way north of the border to Canada and has reopened discussions around diversity and racism. CFL teams all offered their solidarity with the black community and affirmed their anti-racism stance; however, one team has faced backlash over the hypocrisy over their statement.

Many fans question whether the Edmonton Eskimos — a team with a racial slur in their name — can really support racial equality. The issue has been quiet for a while; however, now more than ever, an Eskimos name-change is long overdue.

A Long-disputed Issue

Look, I know this is something that’s been around for a while. Numerous news outlets, as well as indigenous individuals and communities, have called for the Esks to change their name. Edmonton has batted away arguments made by these groups, saying that after extensive consultation with the indigenous community, they believe they’ve obtained the go-ahead to continue using the current name.

You wouldn’t think it from a recent Twitter post the team made. In a statement addressing systemic racism in the USA and beyond, the Edmonton team made a commitment to try and understand the persecution faced by minorities. That post got one thousand comments; the average post by the team gets less than five.

The vast majority of those comments raised the hypocrisy of the statement and called for the team’s name to change. Among those voices was that of Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, an Inuit MP for the NDP. In her reply, Ms. Qaqqaq notes that the Esks should “stop feeding into stereotypes” and that the Inuit “are NOT a mascot.” That doesn’t sound like consensus amongst the Inuit community to me.

Not a Unique Issue

All around the world, sports teams use racially insensitive elements in their name, branding, and even cheers. The Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Redskins are the most notable examples, but many more exist.

These teams are all tied together by a common thread — cultural appropriation. In these instances, elements of a minority culture are appropriated and often manipulated by others who have no right to do so. There’s a big difference between sharing and stealing. While European Canadians enjoy the benefits of shared culture with the Inuit, we have no right to adopt Inuit culture as our own, especially in such an insensitive fashion.

A big part of the problem often comes from the fact that these cultures are often made into jokes or caricatures — think the Indian’s Chief Wahoo or the Tomahawk Chop of the Atlanta Braves.

In the case of Edmonton, the Eskimo name is not only insensitive but also inaccurate.

In 1977, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference adopted ‘Inuit’ as the designation for circumpolar aboriginal peoples. The Conference more recently passed a resolution in 2010 requesting they be officially referred to as Inuit. So in keeping their name, the Eskimos are not only going against the wishes of the Inuit community, they’re doing it in a way that enforces negative stereotypes about an oft-marginalized community.

What Needs to Come for Eskimos Name

To finish off, I want to draw on a quote from the great William Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The Edmonton Eskimos name is easily changeable. Doing so wouldn’t erase the team’s long and illustrious history. Many teams have changed previously racist names without a hitch, so why can’t Edmonton do the same? If they truly want to embody the values they say they uphold, the ‘Eskimo’ name has to go.

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images