Originally published in the Whitecourt Star
The Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos recently stopped in Whitecourt and Grande Prairie as part of their northern Alberta tour.
The trip has been presented as an opportunity to engage northern Albertans in the CFL by giving locals the opportunity to meet players from the closest CFL team.
But if the Eskimos are truly serious about engaging northern Albertans, they may want to consider changing their team’s name from a term used for Inuit people, many of whom reside in province’s north.
As Natan Obed, president of Canada’s national Inuit organization, observed in 2015 Globe and Mail opinion piece, ‘Eskimo’ has never been a term Inuit people have used to describe themselves. It was imposed on them by European settlers as part of the colonization process.
“The CFL football team does not honour our culture, our history, our present, or our future. The name is an enduring relic of colonial power,” wrote Obed.
It’s not just the Eskimos that have an offensive team name, of course. There’s the Cleveland Indians in baseball, Washington Redskins in American football and hockey’s Chicago Blackhawks, to name but a few.
These team names share a common thread — they’re all directed at indigenous peoples.
It’s noteworthy that Edmonton’s CFL team is the only professional Canadian sports franchise faced with this issue.
Canadians often pride ourselves on being more tolerant than our southern neighbours, so let’s act the part.
Particularly at a time of heightened awareness regarding the plight of aboriginals, it would be a measure of considerable goodwill for the team owners to at least consider a name change.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, a former CFL commissioner, said last year that the time was right for the Eskimos to change their name to something more inclusive.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, whose overall politics are far more progressive than Tory’s, has been conspicuously absent from the debate, merely calling it “an important (question) to grapple with.”
Understandably, Iveson doesn’t want to offend fans of a popular franchise, but sometimes one must risk offence to do the right thing, particularly when it’s as simple as changing a name.
The CFL continues to defend the Eskimos brand, pointing out that the team doesn’t use race imagery in its advertising, unlike the Cleveland Indians’ notorious Chief Wahoo.
If the team is genuinely trying to avoid using discriminatory images, then it’s all the more reason for them to change its name.
So what would Edmonton’s CFL team change its name to?
Nearly anything would be less odious then the current moniker, but I think Tory was correct to suggest the team hold a contest for fans to select a new name.
This would be a means of truly engaging the entire community with the franchise, while demonstrating respect for indigenous peoples by treating their diversity of cultures as more than a caricature.