The Edmonton Eskimos football club said its failure to meet a Yellowknife Inuit group, despite visiting the city purely to consult with residents about its controversial name, was unintentional.
Eskimos president Len Rhodes visited Yellowknife on Tuesday and Inuvik on Wednesday. He returns south on Thursday ahead of the team’s Friday game with the BC Lions.
Allan Watt, in marketing and communications for the team, told Cabin Radio Rhodes had made the trip to “meet face to face with people up here, people who are Inuit and other Indigenous people, and other leaders” about the team’s name – which Watt said “has been coming up more and more often” as a topic.
However, the Eskimos did not meet with the Yellowknife-miut Inuit Katujjiqatigiit, which is the recently reformed association of Yellowknife Inuit.
“Well, we never met them, did we? We can’t find them. Nobody knows where there they are,” Suzie Napayok, the association’s acting chair, told Cabin Radio.
“They didn’t speak to anyone, that’s what I think. They never bothered trying to call me.
“[We] looked for them all day. We called up places, we Facebooked, we contacted everybody we knew. And no one knew either, at all. We didn’t receive any advance word or anything.
“It’s a small town and if you want to find someone, it’s not that hard to do in this city.”
‘We will be back’
While an online search for “Yellowknife Inuit” does not immediately return contact details for the organization, the top result is a CBC News article which discusses the group’s potential reformation and clearly names Napayok as a contact.
There were almost 600 Inuit people living in Yellowknife at the time of the last census, conducted in 2016.
A representative from the association called Rhodes at the number listed on his business card shortly before 2pm on Wednesday afternoon and left a message, which had not been returned by 9pm.
“I wish I could get a hold of somebody from there,” Watt told Cabin Radio. “It was not intended as a slight at all. We will be back. This was an early and preliminary step. We will include those people.
“I went online one day and looked at the Inuit organizations based in Ottawa and I lost count at 26. There are 1,100 Inuit people living in Edmonton and we’ve met with them more than once and their leadership group.
“We do not mean to slight them at all.”
Watt asked Cabin Radio to pass his contact information to Napayok, which we duly did.
Speaking to Napayok following our conversation with Watt, we asked her what she would have told the organization had she the opportunity.
“Most of us have disagreed with them using the term Eskimos,” she said. “It’s just kind-of derogatory in today’s world.
“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. 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. It’s kind-of silly.
“They can call themselves the Edmonton Bulls, or Edmonton Cows, or whatever bird they have that’s popular in their province.”
The Eskimos organization would not comment on which groups it actually approached while in the Northwest Territories, or what Rhodes heard from those people he did meet.
Separately, the CBC reported the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents 60,000 Inuit, was also not invited to any discussion with the Eskimos club.
“I’m going to give you the answer that we’re giving everyone, which is this is a consultative process,” said Watt. “It will be multi-level. Len and I aren’t going to announce any interim results or findings as we go.
“These were face-to-face meetings but they weren’t structured or formal in any way, they were just conversations.”
Asked if anyone visited during the trip had told the organization to keep its name, Watt said: “Yes. There are people who feel strongly on both sides.”
Watt said there was absolutely no chance of the club taking action on its name in the foreseeable future.
“We’re a long way from even thinking out loud about that. Any time teams do that, it is a huge undertaking,” he said.
“There’s no contemplation to do that currently, until we finish this process. It would be unfair to everyone.”