The Edmonton Eskimos

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary, Culture Wars

The Edmonton Eskimos are a legend. From the time of Jackie Parker and Normie Kwong, they have always been one of the toughest contenders in the CFL. Now there comes a demand for them to change their name. Some Inuit and other Indigenous groups say that the name is racist and demeaning, and “Eskimos” must go. According to them, the name was given to the Inuit by their traditional enemy, the Cree. It means “eater of raw meat”, and it is offensive for that reason.

However, it is not clear why eating raw meat is considered to be offensive. In fact, it was a point of pride for the Inuit to be known as people who ate raw meat when Governor-General Michaelle Jean visited the north a few years ago. She famously took part in a ceremony during which she ate a piece of raw seal meat. This was a proud moment for the Inuit. The Inuit have been eating the raw flesh of marine animals for thousands of years. That raw meat diet was far healthier for them than the western diet that today makes so many Inuit sick.

And the consumption of the raw flesh of animals is not a practice peculiar to Inuit. Japanese chefs pay fabulous prices for fresh caught tuna and other creatures for their beloved raw meat sushi. So, why a name referring to the eating of uncooked flesh should be considered offensive is not immediately apparent. Some Inuit appear to be proud of their reputation for doing so – and why not?

It is also clear that not all Inuit want the name of the Edmonton Eskimos to be changed. In fact, some Inuit are quite proud to have their name associated with the famous team, and are very definite that the name should not be changed. The football club’s president went to Yellowknife recently for the specific purpose of interviewing Inuit people and finding out what they thought of a name change. Some wanted it changed and some didn’t.

To add even more complexity to the issue, some Inuit people want to be called Eskimos, and find the term “Inuit” to be offensive. The term “Eskimo “ is still quite acceptable in Alaska, and many such people resent being called “Inuit”.

But the complexity does not end there. The term “Inuit” is really accurate when describing one tribe only of North America’s most northerly people. There are many other tribes. The term “Eskimo” is actually quite useful as a term to describe the many peoples of the most northerly parts of North America. It distinguishes them from more southerly tribes, such as the Dene or Cree, just as the term “aboriginal” is useful in describing all Indigenous people such as status Indians, non-status Indians, Metis, and…yes, Inuit or Eskimos. If the term “Eskimos” goes, another term will have to be invented to be used in its place, because “Inuit” does not do the job.

So, having said that, what are we to make of the claim by political activists that Edmonton should change the name of its famous football club?

Shouldn’t it be up to the club and its fans? The team has carried the name for a long time, and the name is not racist or demeaning in any way. In fact, the name is a compliment, and many fans – Inuit and non-Inuit – are proud of it. A forced change of name would simply result in a great deal of expensive inconvenience – to say nothing of the thousands of jerseys and the like that would be rendered obsolete in a nanosecond. And what about the non-Inuit Indigenous activists who are trying to barge into the controversy? Their ancestors were traditional enemies of the Inuit, so it appears to be the height of hypocrisy for these people to claim to be representing the Inuit voice.

So at the end of the day, a forced name change would benefit nobody except one vocal political group with an axe to grind – a group that simply wants to flex its muscles at the expense of a fine football club and its fans. Will we let these these perpetually outraged activists get their way? Or will common sense prevail? After all, if some people do not like the name, they are under no obligation to support the team in any way.

And for those -Inuit and non-Inuit – who want to continue rooting for the the same Edmonton Eskimos they have supported all their lives, let them sit back and enjoy the game.

Let’s leave the name alone.