The Edmonton Eskimos are legendary. From the time of Jackie Parker and Normie Kwong, they’ve been one of the toughest contenders in the Canadian Football League. Now they face demands to change their name.
Some Inuit and other Indigenous groups say the name is racist and demeaning, and ‘Eskimos’ must go. According to critics, the name was given to the Inuit by their traditional enemy, the Cree. It means ‘eater of raw meat’ and is therefore offensive.
However, it’s not clear why eating raw meat is considered offensive. In fact, it was a point of pride for the Inuit to be known as people who ate raw meat when Gov. Gen. 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. They’ve 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 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’s 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 to interview Inuit people and find 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 resent being called Inuit.
And the complexity doesn’t end there. Inuit is accurate only when describing one tribe of North America’s most northerly people. There are many other tribes. The term Eskimo is quite useful 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 Inuit or Eskimos. If the term Eskimos goes, another term will have to be found because Inuit doesn’t do the job.
So what are we to make of the demands that famous football club should change its name? Shouldn’t it be up to the club and its fans?
The team has carried the name for a long time and it’s 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’re 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.
A forced name change would benefit nobody except a 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 perpetually outraged activists get their way? Or will common sense prevail?
After all, if some people don’t like the name, they’re under no obligation to support the team.
And for those who want to continue rooting for the same Edmonton Eskimos they’ve supported all their lives, let them sit back and enjoy the game.
Leave the name alone.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.