Inuit group wants CFL’s Eskimos to change name

Natan Obed

Canada’s national Inuit organization says the storied Edmonton Eskimos Canadian Football League franchise should change its name.

“It isn’t right for any team to be named after an ethnic group,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada’s 60,000 Inuit.

“If anyone was to call me an Eskimo, I would be offended by that.”

The term Eskimo is a relic of a past in which Inuit people had no control over their lives or even what they were called, said Obed.

“This is part of the past. It isn’t part of the present and shouldn’t be part of the future.

“I think it’s time Inuit made the statement that it’s not acceptable to use our people as mascots.”

Although questions have been raised about the team’s name before, Inuit groups have never joined that debate. Obed said now’s the time _ especially with the team playing in this weekend’s Grey Cup championship game in Winnipeg.

“With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action fresh in our minds, all sectors of society should be contributing to the ongoing reconciliation,” said Obed.

Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the commission, said recently that it’s time to get rid of indigenous mascots, which would never be tolerated if they targeted any other cultural group.

It’s important to stand with other Aboriginal Peoples who have objected to sports teams using their names, Obed said.

“I recognize that there may be absolutely no ill will or disrespect intended. It still is a vestige of colonialism, of a different time where it was OK for Canadians to speak of Inuit as Eskimos,” he said.

“There are a number of things that were OK in Canadian society that aren’t any more, and this is one of them.”

Eskimo team officials have consistently defused the issue by saying they have never had an official complaint. Neither team spokespeople nor league officials were immediately available for comment Friday.

The only Inuk to ever play for the Eskimos – he suited up as a halfback in 1955 – said he doesn’t have a problem with the name.

“I think we should take pride in that,” said Kiviaq, a lawyer known as David Ward before he fought a legal battle to use his original Inuit name. “I don’t understand their argument.”

Current Eskimo players were concentrating Friday on practice for the big game.

“I’d have to do a little more research,” said Washington state native J.C. Sherritt, in his fifth season as a linebacker.

“I know the Redskins name back home is something that is constantly talked about and needed change.

“But when things like that happen, conversation is always a good thing. If we need to talk about it, we’ll talk about it.”

Obed, who played junior and university level hockey in the United States, said he understands sports fans are passionate about their teams and their history.

“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 times change, he said.

“We don’t want to enjoy something on the backs of other people. As values in society change, sports values can change, too.”

Teams no longer accept hazing as part of sports culture, he pointed out.

Although American Inuit continue to use the word Eskimo, Canada’s northern people left that name behind at about the same time they began negotiating their land claim in the 1970s, Obed said.

“When we mobilized and decided to fight for our rights, we decided to use the word ‘Inuit,’ because that is our name.

“No other group of people has the right to tell us who we are and name us.”

– CP