Edmonton’s CFL team says its club name invokes “toughness, hardiness and the ability to perform in cold weather,” especially during important fourth-quarter performances in frigid November.
In a statement in response to a query from The Globe and Mail on the origin of its name, the club said some Inuit have stated that the “Edmonton Eskimos’ record of winning Grey Cups in part comes from this toughness.”
Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuk, said the explanation of the team’s history speaks to the club’s incompetence and the need for the team to change its name, which is now the subject of a review.
She also questioned what Inuit the team is speaking with, adding that the statement is incredibly vague.
“It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” she said.
“I don’t understand how in this day and age that we are having a conversation and we are treating it like a debate. For the record, this shouldn’t be a debate.”
Edmonton’s CFL team is facing increased scrutiny to change its name, especially from team sponsors. Boston Pizza ended its association with the team entirely last week, while insurance provider Belairdirect has threatened to pull its sponsorship. That scrutiny will likely only increase after Washington’s NFL team issued a statement on Monday indicating its decision to retire the name of its football club as part of a “thorough review.”
Edmonton’s club should be watching Washington closely, Qaqqaq said.
“They don’t seem to be,” she said. “It is time to … get your act together and to do your part and contribute to being able to look at equality for racialized individuals.”
For its part, Edmonton’s team says it is in the process of its own name review, which it expects will be completed by the end of the month.
When asked, the team could not provide specifics to The Globe on the nature of its consultations with Inuit.
A survey aimed at team supporters is being conducted by Abacus Data on behalf of the Edmonton Eskimos as part of the review of the team, the team said Tuesday. It also said the results are now being tabulated by the polling firm.
“The review continues with several different consultation efforts underway,” the team said.
“We’ll continue to listen carefully with an open mind and remain committed to providing an update on these discussions by the end of this month.”
Some of the questions in the survey included whether respondents believe the Eskimos name was considered offensive by Inuit or Indigenous people when it was originally chosen.
Another question asked whether individuals believe the intent was to be disrespectful of Inuit or Indigenous people.
“Straw polls on racism are unethical,” said Natan Obed, the president of Canada’s national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. He added that they are intended to “undermine Indigenous peoples’ self-determination in this country.
“The survey is attempting to create an honourable origin story and a myth about those who named the team,” he said.
In its statement to The Globe, the Edmonton club made note of history dating back to 1892 when a Calgary reporter referred to the Edmonton team as “those Esquimax from the North,” adding that Edmonton residents embraced the unofficial name.
The club said the name remained unofficial until the arrival in Edmonton of American baseball coach and sports promoter William Deacon White in 1907.
White founded a baseball team in 1909, a football team in 1910 and a hockey team in 1911 that all carried the name Eskimos, the club added, adding that only the football team survived.
“The name remained through several restarts, with the exception of the 1922 season, when the team took on the name Edmonton Elks, after the Elks Club purchased new equipment for the team,” it said.
The current edition of the Edmonton Eskimo Football Club started in 1949 after the end of the Second World War, the team added.
Obed, who has called for the team to change its name while pointing out the moniker used by the CFL team is racist, said Tuesday it is clear that Inuit didn’t name the team.
“This is a corporation that has decided to use an ethnicity as its moniker,” he said. “That was wrong then and it is wrong now.”
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