While Edmonton’s CFL team is in the process of changing its name, a spokesperson says that won’t mean an end to engagement with northern communities.
In 2018, the football franchise – the most northern team in the league – launched its Northern Community Engagement Program to “strengthen ties between the club and the Inuit community” while researching whether to change its name.
That saw players visiting several communities and classrooms in the NWT, including Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.
“I’ve never seen players get so engaged,” Allan Watt, the team’s vice president of marketing and communications, told Cabin Radio on Tuesday. “Getting boots on the ground and going up there is unbelievable.”
“They all said they would dearly love to go back,” he added. “They all said that if they ever had children, they would make sure that they learned about the North and perhaps even visit the North because it really resonated with them, really struck home.”
Seven other communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region have since expressed interest in programming.
While there were “robust plans” to continue that northern engagement program, Watt said the pandemic ground things to a halt. The CFL cancelled its 2020 season as a result of the pandemic and has yet to resume play.
Watt said when the pandemic is over, the priority will be for football to return to the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. However, he said the team’s board of directors, along with president and chief executive Chris Presson – who took over the role in September 2019 – hope to continue engaging with northern communities.
“He is bound and determined that we simply have to go back again, we can’t let it die on the vine here because of the pandemic,” Watt said of Presson.
“When we get back up again and when our funding and sponsorship components come together, I’m pretty sure that we’ll be back up north again. I really look forward to it.”
In July 2020, the football franchise announced it would change its name following years of criticism from some Inuit that the former name was offensive and derogatory.
What that would mean for the team’s northern engagement efforts, however, remained unclear. At the time, several Inuit told Cabin Radio they hoped the team would contribute to the wellbeing of Inuit communities.
The team is now surveying the public about a new name. That online survey, which tasks fans with ranking seven options, is set to close on February 14.
Watt told Cabin Radio those options were narrowed down from more than 2,200 names suggested by fans during public engagement in November.
The online survey has been “wildly successful,” he said, and the team hopes to present the new name by mid-to-late April.