The Edmonton Eskimos football club confirmed Monday that it is asking shareholders and “other key audiences” to complete a survey about the team’s name and whether it should be changed.
The CFL team has faced waves of criticism for its name over the years, with some people arguing it is racist and shows a lack of respect for Indigenous people in northern regions of Canada and the U.S.
The latest public debate about the name arose last week when Belairdirect, an insurance firm and sponsor of the team, indicated it may sever its ties with the club unless it changes its name.
The company cited one of its corporate values — respect — as its reason for issuing the ultimatum.
The survey about Edmonton’s team name asks for demographic information, including how long respondents have lived in Alberta. It also asks how engaged respondents are with the team as fans and whether they support keeping or changing the team’s name and what influences that opinion.
One line in the survey says the team’s name was “originally chosen more than 100 years ago out of acknowledgement, perseverance, and hardiness of Inuit culture” and asks how respondents would feel if the team “celebrated and contributed to this more.”
When asked for comment on the survey on Monday, the Eskimos club provided Global News with a statement it issued July 8.
“We acknowledge and appreciate the feedback and input regarding our name,” the statement reads. “We take this issue seriously as has been demonstrated by the three years we’ve spent engaging in Canada’s north and conducting research related to our name.
“We recognize that a lot has occurred since this information was gathered, and as a result, we are accelerating our ongoing process of review.
“We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decisions moving forward. We’ll continue to listen carefully and with an open mind. 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 left-wing think tank Progress Alberta told Global News on Monday that it has joined forces with Inuk researcher Norma Dunning to launch “an email pressure campaign on the Edmonton football club’s corporate sponsors and partners.” The campaign calls on those partners to ask the team to change its name, or end their relationship with the club.
Dunning, who recently had a book published called Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity, told Global News in an interview on Monday that she does not understand why “Eskimo” is a word still accepted in society when derogatory terms once used for people of other ethnicities or skin colours are no longer accepted.
Dunning added that she believes the new survey is “another delay tactic.” She also questioned why people who aren’t Inuit are part of the team’s consultation process and said she believes the team has not consulted properly with the 1,200 Inuit that live in Edmonton.
The team should go ahead with changing the name now, Dunning said. She added that if the team won’t change the name on principle, she hopes financial pressure will prompt such a decision.
“Money talks,” Dunning said. “If it takes sponsors removing themselves and disassociating themselves with the team, that’s fine with me.”
Last week, Global News reached out to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a non-profit organization that represents more than 60,000 Inuit, for its response to the football team being challenged by a sponsor to change its name.
A spokesperson for ITK said the organization had no statement in response to that development but stands by comments its president made in a 2015 op-ed.
In the piece, Natan Obed outlines why he thinks the Edmonton Eskimos name is harmful to Inuit.
“Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has demanded that the Edmonton Canadian Football League team stop using the moniker ‘Eskimos’ as part of an ongoing fight against colonization in the name of reconciliation,” reads part of Obed’s column published by Nunatsiaq News. “This stance has been supported by many Inuit, although I fully understand and appreciate that not all Inuit view the term as offensive.
“The colonial legacy of naming is about power and control. The issue of Inuit being used as a sports team mascot matters, because this is the way this legacy continues to play out in popular culture.
“This issue is about our right to self-determine who we are on our own terms. We are not mascots or emblems.”
A prominent Inuk athlete voiced his opinion on the controversy late last week. Retired hockey player Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the National Hockey League, issued a statement about the matter and said while he does not personally object to the name, he believes the decision to change it or keep it should be focused on how Inuit feel.
“My father’s generation connects this term to describe who they are,” his statement said. “He would refer to himself as an Eskimo. My generation refers to itself as Inuk. What is important to me is that people understand this. And, when referring to the Inuit people, they respect that we refer to ourselves today as Inuk.
“I understand there are names of sports teams that bring back feelings of oppression for people and I can see why those names should be changed.
“So, this makes me ask the question, does the term Eskimo for the Edmonton franchise bring back feelings of oppression for Inuk people? For me, it does not. That is not a reason to keep the name. There could be others for whom it does create those feelings.”
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the MP for Nunavut, also says she believes the decision over whether Edmonton should keep its team name should be informed by Inuit.
“We are the only ones that should determine whether or not that term is derogatory,” she said.
Qaqqaq said she questions how much the CFL club even knows about Inuit, their history and the challenges they currently face.
She noted that while some are proud to be referred to as Eskimos, she knows “a lot of Inuit that aren’t,” including some like well-known Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
“How in 2020 are we still having this conversation.”
Qaqqaq also suggested she believes money will be what decides whether the Edmonton team changes its name.
“Can we put a price on being respectful to Inuit?” she asked. “Honestly, I think that’s what it might boil down to.”
On Monday, the National Football League’s Washington Redskins announced it would be changing its name and logo, both of which have also been criticized as racist and offensive. The team said the decision to come up with a new name and logo was triggered by a review of the club’s name that got underway earlier this month.
The Eskimos’ survey, which is being conducted by Abacus Data, asks respondents if they’ve been following the story regarding the Washington football team’s name and whether they support it being changed.
In February, the Eskimos said the latest results of its ongoing consultations with Inuit indicated there are a “range of views” regarding the CFL team’s name but no consensus was found to support changing it.
Last week, a number of corporate sponsors and partners of the team said they supported the club’s commitment to consulting with Inuit on whether the change its name.
Boston Pizza, another sponsor, said “as part of a larger shift in our overall marketing strategy, Boston Pizza recently ended its sponsorship of Edmonton’s CFL team.” It tweeted the statement as a response to someone asking about whether it plans to follow the lead of Belairdirect.
Corus Entertainment, Global News’ parent company, has been a long-standing partner of the team.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Aleksandra Sagan and 630 CHED’s Kirby Bourne
Watch below: Some Global News videos about the name of Edmonton’s CFL team.