After an eventful game, the Edmonton Eskimos are celebrating their fourteenth Grey Cup win – and we, as a city, are celebrating them.
While there is much in the team’s history to celebrate, this week the spotlight has also been placed on the team name: does it reproduce our colonial past by referring to Inuit peoples in a potentially offensive way?
The issue is not new to major league sports, as continuing controversy over several NFL and NHL names, logos, and mascots illustrates.
The calls for change have come from diverse sources: Justice Murray Sinclair, in his recommendations to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, suggested that the name belonged to the past, and should be reconsidered. Natan Obed, president of the advocacy group Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, has joined in calls for the name to be dropped. While the name controversy has been raised before, in other contexts, the perspective of Inuit peoples has not often been heard.
Now journalists, politicians, and online polls are weighing in. One editorial pronounces that there is “no compelling reason” to change the name.
It should not be the prerogative of one person – or even a majority of football fans – to decide what constitutes offense; rather, there needs to be space for the opinions of Inuit peoples to determine who and what can represent them. Names and images can be a powerful way to acknowledge the complexity of the past.
Obed states that “The history can be the history. We don’t have to apologize for believing and cheering and saying a name that is now not acceptable. [But] We don’t want to enjoy something on the backs of other people. As values in society change, sports values can change, too.”
That is a sentiment I can agree with: our team has a long and impressive history as the Edmonton Eskimos, and to many it reflects a meaningful tradition. But that is not the only tradition that matters. Former Eskimo player Andre Talbot summed it up best when he said, “Sports organizations need to be community building organizations. And if we’re isolating and offending part of that community, then our particular organization or league is not doing its job.” Let’s hear from Inuit people on what matters to them. And let’s find a way to celebrate not just our team, but our northern pride and our solidarity as a community. What matters most is that our team can move forward with a persona that everyone can rally behind.