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Football Edmonton Eskimos officials tour northern communities to discuss team’s controversial name

An Edmonton Eskimos helmet.

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Officials from the Edmonton Eskimos Canadian Football League club are on a tour of northern communities to discuss the team’s name.

Marketing vice-president Allan Watt says the idea is to hear what northerners think about a name that some say disrespects Inuit people.

“We talk about our name and we talk about where we fit in with what they’re trying to do, community-wise,” he said on Wednesday from Inuvik, NWT.

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Watt and team president Len Rhodes visited Yellowknife on Tuesday. The two plan to visit Ottawa – a city with many Inuit – and Iqaluit later in the summer.

Some Inuit leaders say the term Eskimo, which means “eaters of raw meat,” is derogatory and was given their people by others. They say it’s a relic from days when northern Indigenous people had no control over their fate or even the name by which they were known.

“Inuit are not monikers. Inuit are not mascots,” said Natan Obed, head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit group. Obed raised the issue three years ago.

“The use of that term in Canada and the use of that term as a moniker for a professional sports team outside our society is not acceptable.”

Obed said he hasn’t met with the team since last summer. Although the Eskimos contacted his group to inform it about the visits, it isn’t part of the current consultations.

Southern politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, have suggested it’s time to talk about a change.

The team has also done surveys and held focus groups made up of CFL fans. A poll conducted by Insight West found 57 per cent of Canadians found use of the Eskimos name acceptable.

Watt said it was time to head north to see what people there think.

“We have people talk to us about our name and generally they live in the south. The people that are quietest are up here. We thought, ‘Let’s take some days and see what they have to say.“’

Watt described the meetings as informal and meant to include a variety of people. He and Rhodes have met with Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod as well as Inuvik artist Louie Goose. They’ve also met with representatives of the Inuvialuit, an Inuit group in the territory’s top corner.

“It’s just a process of consultation with people who ... are either in government or business or culture, just visiting with them, face to face.”

Watt declined to summarize what he has been hearing from northerners.

McLeod – an Eskimos fan who attends the Grey Cup every year – said the team has deep roots in Yellowknife. The Eskimos bring the Grey Cup North every time they win it, he said, and many locals follow them.

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While there is a debate among the city’s substantial Inuit population, McLeod said he told Watt and Rhodes the government doesn’t use the term Eskimo.

“We use terminology that is accepted and preferred by the people. We use Inuit.”

Still, he praised the Eskimo brass for making the effort.

“I was very pleased they’re taking the initiative.”

Obed said how people feel about the name on a personal level isn’t the point.

“The term Eskimo is a term that some people will be more comfortable with than others ... within our society. If they’re going up and consulting on whether or not people are comfortable using the term individually, that seems like a strange and unhelpful thing to do.”

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