Eskimos should continue engagement with northern communities even after likely name change

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

It appears the stage is finally set for the Edmonton Eskimos to undergo a name change.

The club publicly announced its commitment to the moniker as recently as a week ago, but the threat of losing a major sponsor has forced the team to accelerate its review process. While the organization won’t announce a decision until the end of the month, it’s hard to imagine the name remaining in place for much longer.

One positive that’s come as a result of the name debate was the creation of the Northern Community Engagement Program. Founded in 2018, the program has allowed a handful of players and spokespeople to make visits to northern Canada to engage with Inuit communities.

The most recent trip was made in January when long snapper Ryan King and centre David Beard traveled to Inuvik to participate in the Sunrise Festival. The players greeted locals, learned about local culture, and participated in the celebration.

The team claims that the Inuit community has welcomed it with open arms during each visit. Janice Agrios, Edmonton’s Chair of the Board of Directors, spoke to this enthusiasm while announcing an expansion of the program in February.

“Since launching the Northern Community Engagement Program, we have been warmly welcomed in the communities that we have visited. The consistent message was ‘come back and come more often,'” said Agrios.

Since the team embarked on school visits to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in October 2019, seven more Inuvialuit Settlement Region communities have inquired about hosting similar programming. That’s a warm response; though COVID-19 has put travel on hold, the football club should work to fulfill as many invitations to northern communities as possible.

Edmonton is home to the northernmost team in the CFL, which will continue to be true even if its name is changed. There’s no reason why the club can’t continue to serve northern communities regardless of its moniker.

The Northern Community Engagement Program was designed to build relationships with Inuit communities. It’s a noble endeavor and one that shouldn’t be easily abandoned.

While some Inuit are offended by the name ‘Eskimos,’ others like Jordin Tootoo have expressed pride in it and the representation it provides. The name is likely to be changed, but that shouldn’t stop Edmonton from supporting Inuit who identify with the team.

Continuing the Northern Community Engagement Program after undergoing a name change would demonstrate that Edmonton’s football club actually cares about Inuit. It would prove that the initiative was more than a public relations move designed to preserve the team’s name, but a genuine attempt to build meaningful relationships with northern Indigenous communities.

Edmonton’s team name and Inuit outreach needn’t be mutually exclusive. The club can change its name and continue offering support to northern communities, engaging its youth and working toward reconciliation.

If a name change brings about the end of the Northern Community Engagement Program, it will be clear that the initiative was never truly about building relationships with the Inuit, but preserving an outdated moniker.

Your move, Edmonton.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.