Colby Cosh: Fight on, Eskimos. But we all know you can't win this one
November 10, 2017
I will admit it: in my heart I have already said farewell to the team's nickname, "the Eskimos"
As a lifelong fan of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, I will admit it: in my heart I have already said farewell to the team’s nickname. Edmonton-area sports teams have been calling themselves the “Eskimos” for well over a century—long enough, in fact, that they were doing so when the spelling “Esquimaux” still had a toehold in English.
The franchise itself, which is community-owned, insists that it has no plans to surrender to those who think calling a football team “the Eskimos” is offensive or unkind.
You can see the problem: even a word like “surrender” is fraught with contentious implications. But this seems like an impossible battle for the team to win—an argument you lose in the act of making it, if you are not Inuit. I strongly suspect the leadership of the football Eskimos realizes this.
The debate over the Edmonton Eskimos resurfaced this week when the mayor of Winnipeg, Brian Bowman, said he would like to see the nickname changed as his city prepares to host Capital of Alberta Football Club in a playoff game. Instead of dismissing this request as a distracting competitive ploy, Edmonton’s mayor, Don Iveson, agreed with Bowman.
He even suggested the name change should happen before Edmonton hosts the CFL championship game in 2018.
This seems like an impossible battle for the team to win.
I see the Eskimos’ front office as playing for time. (The team’s marketing, I notice, places increasingly strong emphasis on the word “Empire.”) It seems careless for Iveson to inject a fake deadline into this subtle process in order to earn applause, even if you agree with him. As operators of a community business in Iveson’s city, the Eskimos’ executives are in a tricky position. Some Eskimo supporters—co-owners—will be furious if the name is changed, no matter what. And there will be hard financial costs to a change.
But one cannot talk about the strong feelings of Edmonton toward its football team and then dismiss or downplay the feelings of the Inuit about the word “Eskimo.” No, this is not a case like that of the Washington Redskins, where the name of the team is uncontroversially and clearly an ethnic slur. The football Eskimos have been better at avoiding insulting caricature than, say, the Cleveland Indians. Ethnographically, “Eskimo” is not even equivalent to “Inuit”: there are non-Inuit peoples who call themselves Eskimos.
And while I wish this was recognized by people who write about the debate, as a matter of accuracy and fairness, it does not add up to much as an argument for keeping the team name in the face of anybody’s bad feelings about it. “Eskimo” is a term that has been applied to the Inuit; whatever the word’s precise denotation, it is not the preferred cognomen of the Inuit for themselves; and some of them obviously associate it with a history of racism and government mistreatment. It is not really for anyone else—bluntly, it is not for me—to tell the Inuit that these associations are imaginary or inconsequential.
The head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Natan Obed, is a determined advocate of changing the football team’s name. It seems to be the case that some Inuit are comfortable with the name of the CFL Eskimos, and think that Obed’s position is contrived attention-grabbing. Opinion among the Inuit could hardly be other than divided: hell, it is not too hard to find American aboriginal people who think “Washington Redskins” is just fine.
What strikes me is that Tapiriit and its leaders have to be taken pretty seriously as an envoy of the Inuit people.
It is not a government, but it has a lot of the characteristics pertaining to one for the purpose of this discussion: for one, Obed is an elected representative. Both those words are important. So if we are tempted to say that he doesn’t speak for Canada’s Inuit, and start nose-counting among the people that chose him collectively, we are… well, maybe the appropriate metaphor is a football one: “moving the goalposts.”
Of course the team should consult widely among the Inuit, as it assures us it is already doing. But speaking for myself, I have watched white journalists raise questions about the Eskimos nickname for a long time, and my question was always, “Very well, but what do the Inuit as a group really make of it?”
Of course the team should consult widely among the Inuit.
As attached as I am to the “Edmonton Eskimos” brand—which is, in the end, just a brand—it would not be fair for me to now say, “Gosh, I guess I just don’t like Obed’s answer.” And I see no real prospect of his answer being reversed or opposed by a wave of passionate positive support from northern Eskies fans of Inuit ethnicity.
It might be one thing if changing “Eskimos” required an expensive redesign of uniforms and other football paraphernalia, but the costs, while real, will be limited. The team has been downplaying the ethnic-signifier aspect of “Eskimos” for decades: it doesn’t even need to change helmets as long as the new nickname starts with an E.
Stationery isn’t that expensive. And goodwill counts too: it is real enough to businesses to appear on balance sheets. I will miss my familiar Edmonton Eskimos, and I don’t know what we’ll do about the fight song, but I am ready.
Linda Blanchard ·
University of Alberta
umm, some people have too much time on their hands and perhaps want 15 minutes of fame and can say "see what I just made them do". Just say no, otherwise there are going to be so many changes out there, no one will be able to talk, sign, name or even think of words before they get into trouble. Common sense is needed not giving in to every whim.
Alex Draper ·
Your common sense is: "Those people are asking for the team to NOT be named after them, they must want more attention!"
There are so may points here to weigh in on but let me start with the mayor of Winnipeg and his city's two professional teams. Between the football Bombers and the fighter jet on their hockey jersey they are promoting a militaristic ideology that is out of place in a Canadian society that prides itself as a peaceful country. Lester Pearson won a Nobel prize for his efforts at peace keeping during the Suez Crisis and that reputation remains.
This Remembrance Day, a 100 years on from the so-called Great War, the mayor of Winnipeg should give a thought to our veterans and remove the militaristic symbolisms of his city's professional teams.
Bryan Warkentin ·
You're kidding right?
Is this a joke? I can’t tell. My eye starting twitching a bit when I read that
Mayor Bowman needs to change the Winnipeg Blue Bombers name as it implies terrorism and I don't feel safe with it.
Lol. Sadly its coming to that extreme.
Let's rename them to something like the "Invaders", "Marauders", "Trespassers", "Transgressionals", "UnRepentents" or maybe just given them a number. The Edmonton "780s". A number will be best...just not 666.
Tommy Thompson ·
And in additional news the cougars of Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia have formed a coalition with the songbirds of the province of Quebec to object to the Supreme Court of Canada to the names of the British Columbia Lions and the Montreal Alouettes respectfully.
Not to be outdone, all the actual tiger cats, strangely only located in zoos in North America have additionally launched legal action contesting that how can a Hamilton team adequately and fairly represent them when they are not indigenous to the continent. Talk about cultural appropriation.
Thanks, a hilarious comment and so on target, there is no reasoning with the the closet totalitarians so lets mock them, laugh at them, denigrate them, they do not belong in our
Russell McIntosh ·
When the hell did the world get so sensitive???? Wow it’s a name of a football team. Leave it alone!!! Worry about homeless people!!!
Ross McDonald ·
I would think it would be disrespect to actually change it!
Renée-Anabelle Campeau ·
If this mayor has nothing better to do than worry about the name of a football team from another city, he needs to step down and let someone else do the job of mayor of Winnipeg.
Debbie Meleshko Ledgerwood
Poll the people in the north out of respect. Follow through based on the poll, not what some shirt says in Wpg. The opinions of the people in the north are what counts.
Pierce Achtymichuk, Banff Centre for Fine Arts
I can't deal too much more with this stupidity.
Paul Hornbeck ·
So sad when cousins marry...
Jason Williams ·
Has anyone asked the northern first nations communities if they even give a flying f__k?
Chris Corrigan · Bowen Island, British Columbia
You mean other than the leader of the organization that represents the norther people in question, who, in this article pretty clearly gives a well grounded f___k about it?
I’m getting a Chief Wahoo Indians hat and will wear it proudly. Good luck trying to get me to stop.
Logan Gulo ·
I’m going to get a Wayne Kesso is a wussy racist hat and wear it proudly. Good luck trying to get me to stop giving them out to my indigenous friends.
Jeff Scott Warren
lets call them the Edmonton Wagonburners . How is that??
Charles Ward ·
Another snowflake crying for change, when there's no need for change!
Why not "Manitoba" Blue Bombers if you are so inclusive Mr. Mayor? It is not too hard to find American aboriginal people who think “Washington Redskins” is just fine.”
It’s true. The Washington Post thought it was leading an effort of righthinking peoples on behalf of American indigenous peoples to change what they perceived as an offensive name until they did this massive poll of America’s original inhabitants and discovered that the vast majority were not bothered at all by the name. They have barely mentioned it since then.
Colby insinuates that there is something objectionable about the term "redskins" how on earth could this be taken as negative unless the premise is that other than white is somehow objectionable, other than a few people in all our country nobody thinks this way. Eskimos across the great north should be proud of the way their football team has fought for their honor all these years, any lily livered melting snowflake that sees this differently can just...melt!
Eric Holl · Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute
With sincere respect to Inuit, Inuriat, Yupik, and all indigineous peoples of the far north. Can we not agree Eskimo is a generic name for fictional peoples of the far north that wear sealskins and fur parkas, rub noses to kiss, popularized in prose poetry and hollywood movies, and leave the football team alone ??
Bill Nelmes ·
Is the Inuit culture really offended by the name Edmonton Eskimos I never heard them complain or were they told by educators they should be!
Russell Clark ·
The folks who are unable to grasp why names such as Eskimos are unacceptable are the same ones who are equally unable to understand why an increasing number of people want to get rid of the confederate statues in the US.
Eskimo is not an offensive term. in fact in the description of Innuit in Websters they use the term Eskimo to describe Innuit.
Definition of Inuit
1 plural Inuit or Inuits also Innuit or Innuits
a (1) :the Eskimo people of North America and Greenland (2) :the Eskimo people of Canada
b :a member of such people
2 a :eskimo
Renée-Anabelle Campeau · Parsons School of Design
Russell Clark the resident snowflake and leftist....of course he had to bring in the Confederate statues...you are seriously a pathetic individual
Curtis Brooks ·
Just out of curiosity from people on both sides of the debates: Would changing the name officially to Eskies be a reasonable compromise?
They were called 'The Elks' once so no helmet 'EE' logo change needed (and yes Eskimo started as a derogatory term).
Pierce Achtymichuk ·
Remy Henderson ·
Sarnia Collegiate Institute And Technical School
So? Even if it started as a derogatory word doesn't mean they have to change it. It's their franchise, they can name it the Edmonton Anil Sucks Dick if they want.
Doug Hewitt ·
You know, the Inuit are are ones who get to decide if the name is offensive or not, and it seems their elected leader has said it is. So what the heck, just change it to something else. I know I'd be insulted if the Inuits named their team the Genocidal Settlers or something, and no matter how many times they might assure me it shouldn't offend me I get to decide that.
It's the entertainment industry. This isn't some deep and important aspect of Canadian culture they are asking us to change. Just change it, and in 5 years we'll have forgotten all about it and be enjoying the new name.
The Edmonton Green Yellows; it worked for Ottawa.
You mean the Green Golds.
I’ve said Farewell to the CFL years ago! ·
I'm surprised terrorists haven't taken exception to Winnipeg's team name.
Stan Stuber ·
The Eskimos can endure, just ignore the stupid political correctness crap!!
I vote for the name "The Edmonton There are Only Two Genders
Hard to fit on a jersey though.
Bill Witzke ·
Pretty soon we'll just be referring to them as the 'Edmonton E-words.'
Bull s*** they have been the esks for ever and not hurt ayone.
University of Lethbridge
While I have never been a fan of the everluving Eskimos, if they are forced to change their name I will forsake CFL football, as I have forsaken hockey and NFL football.
The CFL's silly support of 'Diversity is Strength' nonsense almost made me stop.
But if they heel to the SJW idiots, the continually offended, most of whom do not even watch the sport, then I am happy to stop watching CFL as well.
In the US, fans are abandoning ESPN and NFL specifically because of the grandstanding and disrespect for traditions such as the anthem and the flag.
What the leagues have failed to realize, is that most of their fan base comes from the so called 'deplorables'. Working class people who support God and country and the flag, (and the Team) and who are conservative leaning.
Certainly the fan base is not the liberal lefties, who see competition and sweaty men and just another example of the patriarchy And millennials have no interest in sports of any kind.
So go ahead, CFL.
Make my day.
Loretta Baldwin ·
If the Edmonton Eskimos name wasn’t offensive before why is it only now?
Sports team names are meant to sound tough, it can't be a bad thing to say Eskimos are tough.
Terry Ward ·
Another bunch of SNOWFLAKES crying. When will it end?
How about the Edmonton Emeralds? Neither he colour nor the stone should oppose.
Just call them the same as every other city does, the "Evil Empire"
Bob Buckle ·
Niagara College, Welland, ON
OK....Edmonton Inuit it is!!
Will Barkley ·
University of Toronto
Do not refer to northern indigenous as Eskimos.
Just the Edmonton football team.
Wait what? Why? Eskimos is a derogatory name?
Andrew Richards ·
Not gonna happen. Who are these idiots?