Edmonton Eskimos president not committing to name change after northern tour

An Edmonton Eskimos' fan cheers during first half CFL West Division final football action against the Calgary Stampeders in Edmonton, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The president and CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club says his tour of Canada’s North is just the first step in deciding whether the storied club should change its name.

Last week, Len Rhodes toured several communities in the Northwest Territories, including Yellowknife and Inuvik, to speak with Inuit people about their feelings on the name.

There have been repeated calls for the Eskimos to change their name, with many people calling it offensive. Rhodes told 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen the idea for the tour was born because he wanted to be sure that people weren’t speaking on behalf of the Inuit.

“Most people we spoke to were actually supportive of the name and those who weren’t, it’s more skewed towards, ‘Well, it just doesn’t mean anything to us. We’re Inuit, the word Eskimos isn’t relevant,’” he said on Wednesday.

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“Very few actually talk about the more offensive side, but they do exist and we recognize that, that’s why we’re doing this and having this conversation.”

LISTEN BELOW: Len Rhodes speaks with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen about the Eskimos’ tour of Canada’s North

Rhodes said even those who have expressed an issue with the name were grateful and appreciative that the club was initiating the conversation.

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“Our club had not gone up to Inuvik for over 20 years I’m told, so we were far overdue to do that. I’m taking the onus on myself, making sure that I take some ownership of this and I’m going to speak directly to the people.”

WATCH BELOW: Edmonton Eskimos president discusses public consultations on team’s name

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Eskimos president discusses public consultations on team’s name'
Edmonton Eskimos president discusses public consultations on team’s name

Rhodes said people were very welcoming as the group toured the communities. He told a story of a woman wanting an Edmonton Eskimos jacket he was wearing. When he took it off and gave it to her, she gave him a hug.

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“People that are portraying a certain image of everyone up north having an issue with our name, that’s not the truth,” he said.

The discussions about the name are not over now that Rhodes and his team have completed the one tour. He asked for fans and critics to be patient.

“I really don’t know where it ends up, but I do know I want to do the right thing,” he said. “We’re not looking for the easy path, we’re looking for the right path.”

Season ticket holders were asked how they felt about the name in February. Rhodes said the team has those results, but the club will not be sharing them with the public just yet.

“We want to wait until we go through this whole process,” Rhodes said. “To truly respect the process, we’re going to continue down this path for the rest of the year because it would be premature for me to draw conclusions after one visit, after meeting certain people.

“We have a set of values and if they’re only on my wall and we’re not practicing the authenticity, the accessibility, the community spirit, then we’re shortchanging ourselves.”

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Late last year, Global News spoke with the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization, about the football team’s name.

Part of the concern about the name, Natan Obed said, is using Indigenous peoples as mascots.

Obed also said the word “Eskimo” is a term that was created by others and then applied to the Inuit people.

“And over the past 150 years or so, that term has been used in many ways to marginalize us. It’s been used as a term that is a racial epitaph and a slur,” Obed said.

WATCH BELOW: A leader in the Inuit community says the Edmonton Eskimos nickname is racist.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Eskimos Name Debate'
Edmonton Eskimos Name Debate

One of the people Rhodes met with was Tuktoyaktuk mayor Merven Gruben. Rhodes said Gruben didn’t have an issue with the name and will be coming to Edmonton for an Eskimos home game in the future.

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Late last year, an Insights West poll found 57 per cent of Canadians found the football team’s name acceptable, while 21 per cent found it unacceptable. Twelve per cent of Albertans had a problem with the name and logo.

Politicians like Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Edmonton mayor Don Iveson have also publicly encouraged the team to have a conversation about the possibility of changing the name.

– With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News

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