Leaders in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region say they do not oppose the Edmonton Eskimos organization’s recent decision to keep its name.
Saying two years of research had been carried out by public relations firm Edelman, the Eskimos’ vice-president of marketing – Allan Watt – concluded no consensus had been reached on changing the name, so it would remain.
Edmonton’s football team has held the name since its founding in 1949.
In 2015, Natan Obed – leader of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which represents Inuit across Canada – called on the club to stop using the word Eskimo.
“This issue is about our right to self-determine who we are on our own terms. We are not mascots or emblems,” he wrote at the time.
Watt said the club subsequently surveyed Inuit for their views but heard neither a unanimous ‘yes’ or ‘no’ regarding its name.
Though the ITK maintains its stance against the name, leaders reached by Cabin Radio in the NWT’s Inuvialuit region saw no problem with Edmonton’s decision.
Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), said the organization does not share Obed’s interpretation of the term.
“The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation does not take exception to the term Eskimo as it is not derogatory in any way,” said Smith. “It was developed by a First Nations group to describe a group of Inuit they were aware of.”
The word Eskimo is generally thought to be from an Algonquian term which was long understood to mean “eaters of raw meat,” although researchers have argued the word may instead mean “one who laces snowshoes.” The Canadian Encyclopedia labels the word offensive, adding it was rejected in the 1970s in favour of the term Inuit.
Smith feels that while not Inuit are in agreement over use of Eskimo, there is a need for education and awareness about the word.
As long as the term is used respectfully, he said – adding he feels the CFL team is doing so – the IRC supports its use.
Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, said he was “excited” the team had decided to keep its name.
“It’s a good news story,” he said. “I’m a full-class Eskimo, that’s how I consider myself.”
Eddie Dillon, an IRC board member and chair of Tuktoyaktuk’s community corporation, said he’s known the Eskimos under that name for so long he can’t see the team being called anything else.
“That’s what we were known as in those days and they didn’t know any better and we didn’t know any better,” he said.
“They should never worry about it being a derogatory term. That is what it was meant to be, but it has been used for so long, we’ve got no qualms with it.”
The decision to keep the name, the team said, comes after engagement with Inuit in Iqaluit, Inuvik, Yellowknife, and Ottawa, among other places. The team said in-depth interviews were conducted “with Inuit across the North and in Edmonton” as well as a telephone survey with Inuit across Canada.
Jacobson, a resident of Tuktoyaktuk (a community visited by the team in October), approved of the Eskimos’ engagement efforts.
“They did all their due diligence in regards to the visits and stuff like that as far as I can see,” he said.
Mayor Natasha Kulikowski of Inuvik said the town welcomed the consultation process, especially discussions with regional Indigenous groups.
Long snapper Ryan King with a young fan during the Inuvik Sunrise Festival. Photo: Edmonton Eskimos
The team will not publish the results of its research. Watt declined to discuss those results in detail.
“It varied by gender, it varied by region,” he told Cabin Radio, saying that in general, those living in western regions were more familiar with the team and more likely to support keeping its name.
Watt said respondents identifying as female were, generally, “more sensitive to the subject matter.” He said the same applied to older people surveyed by the team.
An ITK map shows the Inuit regions of Canada. Inuit are also present in Alaska, Siberia, and Greenland.
“Overall there was nothing that gave us a consensus that said ‘here’s what you need to do,’ one way or the other, strongly,” Watt said.
“The consistent message was: come back, and come more often,” stated Janice Agrios, chair of the club’s board of directors. “We are the CFL’s most northern team and we want to continue to build our relationship with the Inuit community.”
Support for the name also came from Nunavut, where Rankin Inlet South MLA and cabinet member Lorne Kusugak applauded the decision in a statement at the territory’s legislature. Kusugak urged those irked by the name to “settle down, take a Valium” and not be so sensitive.
Smith said Inuit in Alaska use the term more frequently and are “envious that we have a national team named after us.”
A Yellowknife organization representing Inuit – the Yellowknife-miut Inuit Katujjiqatigiit – has been critical of the name in the past.
“It might have been OK in 1949, when they first came up with the team, but you don’t hear about Montreal Blacks or Montreal French,” acting chair Suzie Napayok told Cabin Radio in 2018.
“You don’t name teams after other races at all. There’s an exception for Eskimos and why is that, pray tell? I find it bordering on abusive labelling.
“We’re not animals, we’re not wildlife or domestic species. We’re people.”
At the time, the CFL team was criticized by Napayok for not meeting with the organization. Watt said the team wasn’t able to meet with Yellowknife-miut Inuit Katujjiqatigiit this time either. (Despite repeated attempts, Cabin Radio could not reach the organization for this report.)
The team said it would keep engaging with northern communities and had received requests to visit several communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Members of the team visited Inuvik for the Sunrise Festival and will be in Norman Wells in early March.