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CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos dropping ‘Eskimo’ from team name

Click to play video 'CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos to search for new name' CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos to search for new name
WATCH ABOVE: So long, Edmonton Eskimos. The CFL team announced Tuesday it is changing its name after coming under pressure from sponsors and the Inuit community. Sarah Ryan reports live from Commonwealth Stadium.

The Edmonton Eskimos football club has dropped the word Eskimo from its team name.

The club made the announcement Tuesday, after criticism from many in the Inuit community who said the name Eskimo was offensive.

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The team said its board of directors made the decision to discontinue the use of the word Eskimo. Until a new name is selected, the organization will be known as the Edmonton Football Team or EE Football Team.

LISTEN BELOW: Chris Presson, president and CEO of the EE Football Team joins 630 CHED Afternoons

Janice Agrios, board chair of the club, called this a very important day in the history of the football club.

Agrios spoke about attending games as a child and said the name Eskimo meant, “tough, resilient, never give enough.”

“It also meant community and respect,” added Agrios. “In recent years however, we’ve come to understand the concerns with the name.

“We know that those who originally named the team did not intend to be disrespectful or derogatory — in fact the very opposite,” Agrios said. “They were proud to associate themselves with such a resilient northern people.

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“However, while we might relate to Inuit values, that doesn’t meant that we can continue to use this name.”

“Recent findings demonstrate that views regarding the team name are shifting,” the club said in a statement on its website.

“While many fans are deeply committed to keeping the name, others are increasingly uncomfortable with the moniker.”

Click to play video 'Edmonton Eskimos hope to retain double ‘E’ logo, green and gold colours during name change' Edmonton Eskimos hope to retain double ‘E’ logo, green and gold colours during name change
Edmonton Eskimos hope to retain double ‘E’ logo, green and gold colours during name change

The name announcement comes after one of the organization’s sponsors, Belairdirect, announced earlier this month it planned to cut ties with the team unless it changes its name.

Other sponsors also said they would welcome a review of the name.

In February, the Edmonton club announced it was keeping the name following year-long research that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada.

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The club said it received “no consensus” during that review.

LISTEN BELOW: Morley Scott, EE Football Team play-by-play announcer, joins 630 CHED Afternoons

Agrios told Global News the team had surveyed more than 236 Inuit in the North and felt the consultation, that started more than three years ago, was extensive.

 

“We think it’s more than anyone else had done, by a long shot,” Agrios has previously said.

But on July 8, the team said it would speed up another review of the name. That survey was sent to season ticket holders.

“That is our number one source of revenue,” Agrios said. “We have to have some indication in terms of how they’re going to react.”

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Read more: Survey asks Edmonton Eskimos’ shareholders, others if CFL team should change its name

Critics said the Edmonton team’s name was a derogatory, colonial-era term for Inuit.

Despite the decision to move ahead with a different name, the team again said there was still no consensus with Inuit on the name Eskimos.

But Agrios called 2020 a year of unprecedented upheaval and said views are changing.

“People who defended the name only a year ago are less comfortable with it now.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson had previously called for the team to consider a name change. Iveson said he is “happy” to see the football team moving ahead with a name change and won’t be an obstacle for new fans.

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Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said the team is finally taking Inuit seriously.

“In some ways, a breath of relief,” said Qaqqaq. The MP called the name change “long overdue,” but questioned whether people in her region should continue to be part of the name change conversation.​

“In my mind there wasn’t even a level of respect for Inuit,” said Qaqqaq. “There wasn’t any kind of money compensation, there was no helping the public become aware of Inuit and the challenges that we face.

“What is the CFL going to give back for Inuit?”

Qaqqaq said the team should take further steps and apologize for using the word Eskimo.

“I think an apology is absolutely necessary.”

Qaqqaq also called on those who supported the name change to continue to press the federal government to focus on the North. She said families lived in mouldy homes, kids go to school hungry and the suicide rate is nine times the national average.

“It’s a glimpse in the window of the inequalities that we experience and that we continue to see for Inuit all the time.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a non-profit organization that represents more than 60,000 Inuit, had been critical of the team’s name and issued a statement Tuesday to say it welcomed the decision to drop it.

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“ITK has consistently maintained that ongoing use of the team’s name is damaging to Inuit and to reconciliation,” the organization statement reads in part. “The process of recognizing and responding to these harmful effects is key to reconciliation between Inuit and Canada, and contributes to the monumental work required to dismantle systemic racism.

“We thank the Edmonton team for reaching this important decision and wish them well in their process to determine a new name. We also thank them for the relationships they have built with Inuit over the past several years and hope that they continue to celebrate Inuit fans and to work with Inuit across our homeland, Inuit Nunangat.

“ITK is grateful for the vocal support that has contributed to bring about this decision — from Inuit youth to corporate sponsors and Canadian citizens who saw an injustice and felt compelled to speak out. Your voices have brought us here.”

Die-hard fan Kevin MacDonald said he’s still trying to process the name change, even though he called it inevitable.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this,” MacDonald said.

“It’s a whole new world.”

MacDonald wondered if the name had been dropped because of pressure from sponsors or due to “louder voices.”

He also wanted to know what would happen to the mascot Nanook, and if the players would run out of the igloo.

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Click to play video 'Edmonton Eskimos dropping ‘Eskimo’ from football team’s name' Edmonton Eskimos dropping ‘Eskimo’ from football team’s name
Edmonton Eskimos dropping ‘Eskimo’ from football team’s name


Michelle Wallace, another longtime fan, said if people were hurt by the name, it was time to change it.

“It’s sad, it’s bittersweet to see the name go,” she said. “I understand why.”

Both fans said they will continue to cheer for the team, no matter the name and have heard Eagles, Elks and Empire being tossed around as possible new names.

MacDonald said he doesn’t want a “corny” name like Edmonton Energy.

“We can finally move on… and watch some great football.”

Chris Presson, president and CEO of the EE Football Team, called this one of the most “monumental and historic occasions in the history of our club.”

He told reporters he believes fans will support the decision to change the name.

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“This is tough for longtime fans, no question,” Presson said. “But here’s the thing — we’re all a team.

“Our game is designed to bring people together for a half day so they can leave their worries and struggles behind.”

He called on fans to unite and stated there is no specific timeline to find a new name, nor is there a shortlist yet.

“Already, every 630 CHED talk show and every physically distanced barbecue is talking about nothing but new name possibilities.”

Read more: Edmonton Eskimos promise to speed up name review, provide update by month’s end

The club asked for patience, due to COVID-19 restrictions and funding, and said it may take time to remove all the old name logos.

The team plans to keep the double-E emblem as well as the green and gold colours. If the season goes ahead, a new name will not be part of the season, instead the club will be called the EE Football Team.

“We need your help in building a new legacy and a new dynasty with a new name.”

Presson said the football club will continue to engage with Inuit in the North and locally.

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Click to play video 'Edmonton Football Team to drop ‘Eskimo’ from name' Edmonton Football Team to drop ‘Eskimo’ from name
Edmonton Football Team to drop ‘Eskimo’ from name

With files from Phil Heidenreich and The Canadian Press.