Edmonton’s Canadian Football League club is dropping its long-time team name – a decision that follows allegations of racism from Indigenous politicians and threats by sponsors to pull their support.
In a statement on Tuesday, the chair of the club’s board of directors said that it is making the change because of recent community engagement and research into the issue.
“The Edmonton Eskimo Football Club board of directors has made the decision to discontinue the use of the word ‘Eskimo’ in the team’s name,” the club said in the statement.
For the time being, the club said it will use the names EE Football Team and Edmonton Football Team, adding that it will undergo a “comprehensive engagement process” on a new name that will include season ticket holders, casual ticket purchasers and partners.
“People who defended the name only a year ago are less comfortable with it now,” board chair Janice Agrios said in a video conference. “Institutions are being renamed around the world. The change to our name is part of a sweeping societal change.”
The team’s decision to change its name is taking place while pressure is mounting across North America over the use of sports team names and logos that are perceived as racist. Washington’s National Football League team announced earlier this month that it would change its team name, Chicago’s National Hockey League team has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks over its name and Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team is exploring a potential name change.
Natan Obed, the president of Canada’s national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, thanked the team for making the change on Tuesday, adding that it’s the result of Indigenous people who spoke up. “Inuit spoke up and said this has been used against many of us as an ethnic slur and we are not mascots,” he told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Obed has been advocating for the team to take this decision, saying that Inuit aren’t mascots and that the term that was being used for the team name was the last place in Canada it was used widely.
“I am really thankful that the Edmonton CFL has dropped that particular moniker,” he said. “This is not something that belongs in present day Canada and even if the name was created with good intentions, it no longer really has a place in society, especially as a term that is used for a football team.”
It took courage and leadership for the Edmonton team to change its name, he added, noting that the change will have a positive impact on the future of Inuit society.
“I would like to think of today as one of those steps along the way to understanding and respect,” he said.
Edmonton’s long-standing team name dates back to 1892 when residents of the city unofficially embraced it after a Calgary reporter referred to the team as “those Esquimaux from the North.” The team later picked up the name officially and the current edition of the Edmonton Football Club started in 1949.
The club, which has resisted past calls to change its name, announced recently that it would conduct a review and pledged that the process would be complete by the end of the month. It also had a research firm, Abacus Data, conduct a survey on behalf of the team as part of that review.
Mr. Obed said the survey amounted to a straw poll on racism and that it was unethical.
The club said Tuesday that recent findings demonstrated that views regarding the name are shifting.
It said that while many fans are “deeply committed” to keeping the name, others are increasingly uncomfortable with it.
“The long-term viability of the club requires everyone to get behind this change and continue to support the team, especially during these challenging financial times,” the club said.
It also said that for more than 100 years, the club and its predecessor have celebrated the “hardiness and spirit” of those who live in the north. The club added that its values of community, integrity, respect and inclusion will not change with the decision on the name.
In recent weeks, the Edmonton team has been under the microscope over its name, especially from sponsors.
Boston Pizza ended its association with the team entirely, while insurance provider belairdirect threatened to pull its sponsorship should the team not change its name.
Edmonton also faced calls from NDP Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuk, to change its name.
The Edmonton name change is long overdue, Ms. Qaqqaq said Tuesday, adding that it is a step in the right direction.
“We are not a mascot. I think people have finally come to respect that.”
With a report from The Canadian Press