The leader of Canada’s national Inuit organization says there is a great opportunity for the CFL, its Edmonton team and Canada to learn and understand how systemic racism affects Inuit and other racial minorities.
Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that the Edmonton CFL team’s name is a vestige of another time and the debate around it has been damaging to Inuit and damaging to reconciliation in the country.
“Inuit are not mascots,” he said.
“We are not play things for professional sports franchises. The idea that any ethnicity is a mascot or a moniker for a for-profit corporation is over.”
In recent weeks, North American sports teams have faced scrutiny over names.
In a letter signed by advocates and obtained by The Associated Press, Indigenous leaders and organizations urged the NFL cease the use of Native American names, imagery and logos. The letter specifically addressed the Washington franchise, which announced a review of its name last week. It was delivered on the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump spoke out against a name change.
Indigenous people are speaking up across North America, Obed said Wednesday.
“We see Indigenous people rising up and saying that this is outdated, it is offensive and it needs to stop,” he said.
“The moniker, as it is used by the Edmonton CFL corporation, is racist.”
Until Edmonton changes its team name, there will be no peace in any conversation it has around matters of social justice, morals and ethics, Obed added.
An argument used against the franchise changing its name is that some Inuit do not mind being called Eskimos, he said, noting that will never change the fact many Inuit have been called the name in a way that would be described as an ethnic slur.
“People have had tremendous hurt because of the way that term was used directly at them in their lives,” Obed said.
“We are enabling a debate in which some people can say it doesn’t bother them when other people have been devastated by it. I think that is incredibly sad. It is wrong.”
Obed said he did not create this moral conundrum, nor will he be the one who solves it. But he said he sees his role as needing to articulate why it will be an issue until the team makes a change.
One of the club’s sponsors, insurance company belairdirect, said on Tuesday it wants to see a name change.
“In order for us to move forward and continue on with our partnership with the Edmonton Eskimos, we will need to see concrete action in the near future including a name change,” it said in a statement.
“We have shared our position with the team.”
On Wednesday, the club said on Twitter it is seeking further input from the Inuit, partners and stakeholders to inform its decisions, adding it acknowledges and appreciates feedback on its name. “We intend to complete our review as quickly as possible and will provide an update on these discussions by the end of this month,” the statement said.
In response to Edmonton’s latest comments, Obed said the CFL franchise has shown recently it is able to act swiftly and decisively in relation to certain social justice and racism issues.
“The difference in its approach to Inuit is profound and speaks to how systemic racism against Indigenous peoples lives and breathes in Canada,” Obed said.
In June amid Black Lives Matter protests, the club issued a statement stating it stands “with those who are outraged, who are hurt and who hope for a better tomorrow.”
In response, NDP Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuk, said the Edmonton team should start by changing its name.
“Stop feeding into stereotypes and offensive names,” she wrote on Twitter. “We are NOT a mascot.”