Why the Edmonton Eskimos still need to change their name

Hint: it's not just because it's racist

Take it from a season ticket holder: the Edmonton Eskimos need to change their name. Why? Well buckle up folks, we’re about to go on a short trip into Canada’s colonial history and how the heck that relates to the Edmonton Eskimos.

It may surprise you to find that the word “eskimo” isn’t a word Inuit people use to describe themselves, but is actually a derogatory term. Nobody knows for sure where the name came from, but one thing is clear: Europeans came up with it. Whether it means “eaters of raw meat” or “excommunicated ones,” the word eskimo doesn’t accurately reflect who Inuit people are or what they have experienced.

Let’s face it; when someone says the word eskimo, we usually think of the stereotypical caricature of an Inuit person in a fur-lined coat living in an igloo. We rarely think of Inuit people who have survived residential schools and are resilient in our settler-colonial society. This is dangerous. When we allow ourselves to think of Indigenous people as comedic stereotypes, it becomes easier for us to forget their resilience, and the work we still have to do to address access to housing, employment and mental health services in Inuit communities. It also becomes easier to ignore how stereotypes can lead to violence and racism. According to Statistics Canada, young Indigenous people are more likely than any other demographic to be victims of hate crimes. 

By now I bet you’re wondering, what does that have to do with the Edmonton Eskimos? Are they the only ones who have work to do in addressing reconciliation?

The short answer is no. But it’s hard to defend the Eskimos’ name when many Inuit people have spoken out against it for years. Natan Obed, the leader of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (Canada’s National Inuit Organization) says that “the name is an enduring relic of colonial power” and that it doesn’t honour the culture, history, present, or future of Inuit people. Natan suggests the CFL team ditches the racist moniker to achieve true and lasting reconciliation, and I couldn’t agree more.

A lot of the pushback against changing the name comes down to honouring the tradition and legacy of the football team. I have to wonder what legacy that is. Sure, according to some Twitter users, Edmonton Eskimos is “not as bad” as some American team names, but when did “not as bad” become the new standard? Our standards should be set higher.

So no, the Edmonton Eskimos aren’t the only ones with a role in achieving reconciliation. We all do, from individual citizens to all levels of government. I only want to ask why are we, as a city, comfortable celebrating a team with a name like that? If we’re celebrating the traditions and legacy of this team, we need to celebrate all of it — including the parts we’re uncomfortable with.

My suggestion to Eskimos HQ? Change the name. Not only will a new name spur important conservations, but a new era in Edmonton football. Let’s distance ourselves from low attendance numbers and dismal performances. A new name offers a chance to rebrand the Eskimos’ legacy to match their commitment to making a “positive and meaningful impact in the community.” I don’t know about you, but I think the Edmonton Empire has a nice ring to it.

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