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Unceded

Let’s Talk About The Edmonton Eskimos

author
Autumn Schnell
illustration
Jules Franciso

Edmonton’s football team has been in the spotlight lately, after Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman commented, “…there’s an opportunity for a more inclusive name.” On one end of the football, there are qallunaat voicing their opinion, and on the other end the Inuit are also expressing their opinion. It’s the typical case of ‘white people think this’ and ‘Native people think that.’

The issue, however, is that myself and the Inuit don’t care what the qallunaat think. The only people whose opinions should matter are the Inuit, and the Inuit have many nuanced and diverse opinions. My stance, as an Inuit Canadian, is that the name should be changed.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said that he is willing to open up dialogue about it, and I think that the rest of Edmonton should be open to it as well. Because ultimately, this name isn’t a representation of settler Canadiana culture; this name is a misrepresentation of Inuit culture, now considered a racial slur.

It’s a misrepresentation at best. At worst, it’s a trope that tokenizes Inuit culture for the generation of profit. As Norma Dunning says, “the term ‘Eskimo’ is a constant reminder of how the Inuit people were demeaned and discriminated against during the colonization of the north,” which is still happening, but less overt.

It’s time that Canada recognize Inuit people as contemporary people. The Inuit aren’t a people of the past, and Canada should start recognizing our voices and acknowledge what the Canadian state did to us.

CTV Edmonton opened up a poll which demonstrated that 57 percent of Edmontonians find the name acceptable, and only 12 percent of Albertans disagreed with the name.

There is one large problem with this poll; it doesn’t tell us the participation number of people who identify as Inuit. Leaving that information out makes qallunaat think that their opinions matter in this scenario, but they don’t. This poll should be re-done and shared in the north, as well as open to Edmontonmiut, and other Inuit people living in the south.

The name “Eskimo” perpetuates negative stereotypes, and we are now just beginning to debate where the term originates from. Initially, the term “Eskimo” was thought to be derived from Algonquin and translated as a slur for “eaters of raw meat.” But more recently, it is believed that the term comes from the Innu-aimun language, and is believed to translate as “one who laces snowshoes.”

Regardless of the origin, it was never intended to describe Edmonton’s football team. The name came about during a rivalry between Calgarians and Edmontonians, where Calgary was called the “the cow camp,” and Edmontonians were called the “Edmonton Eskimos.” But Edmonton isn’t Inuit territory, and their use of the term Eskimo creates an educational disconnect between what Inuit culture is and isn’t.

There is also an issue with the tokenism of Indigenous players (ie. Kiviaq). Just because an Indigenous player played for the team once upon a time doesn’t justify the name Edmonton Eskimos. Inuit people are diverse and have a broad spectrum of opinions, and Kiviaq isn’t the end all be all of opinions. We should celebrate that he was successful in his career to play for a CFL team and represent Inuit people in his own way, but his career and cultural heritage can be totally separate from one another. His personal doesn’t have to be political.

I understand that not all Inuit people are offended by the Edmonton Eskimos. However, this argument isn’t just about the multifaceted opinions of the Inuit people, but also about the Inuit versus the qallunaat. There is little to no mainstream representations of the Inuit in contemporary society, but as a football team, the Edmonton Eskimos have a lot of mainstream exposure.

The mention of “Eskimo” may appear to give Inuit people airtime and exposure in sports coverage, and media reporting on this topic implies that the Inuit are engaged in dialogue around the name, but this is not true. The Edmonton Eskimo franchise is exactly that: a franchise business. They will always put the wants of their fans before the needs of the Inuit from whom they appropriated their namesake. There are bigger problems at hand, like attrition, living conditions in Iqaluit and especially the price of food in the North, but many of them could be solved, or at least acknowledged by more accurate representations of Indigenous peoples, including the Inuit.

This conversation needs to highlight more Indigenous voices and less season’s pass holders and CEO’s, in order for this problem to be radically dealt with. It’s time to decolonize and stop the tokenism of Indigenous players and franchisement of Indigenous peoples.

 

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Unceded is a column by the Indigenous Collective at CiTR 101.9FM. In the same way that the collective’s radio program, Unceded Airwaves, centres the voices of Indigenous peoples and provides alternative narratives that empower Indigenous people, this column will seek to do the same. Unceded Airwaves airs on Mondays at 11 AM on 101.9 FM.