Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed has received blowback for voicing his informed opinion regarding the former Edmonton Football Team name.
Obed was elected to his current position in September 2015 and first spoke out against the moniker during Grey Cup week in 2015, which was capped by Edmonton beating Ottawa 26-20 to win the CFL championship.
“It seemed to me very clear that a derogatory term, a term that had been used as a racial slur against Inuit, especially against Inuit who had gone to a residential school, it was not acceptable as a moniker for a professional sports team in Canada,” Obed told Donnovan Bennett on The Waggle podcast.
“To me it was quite clear, Inuit aren’t mascots, and also that there was a direct link between the hurtful way in which Indigenous people have been characterized in this country, and then the ongoing portrayal of that through the moniker of the Edmonton Football Team.”
Last July, the EE Football Team stated the team would not be changing its moniker. The club claimed it had spent time up north consulting with members of the Inuit community and found there was “no consensus” among Inuit regarding their name. After an ultimatum from major sponsor Belairdirect, the green and gold shifted their stance.
“There’s been a lot of hate that has been put my way and put towards anyone’s way who talked against this particular concern. If your mascot can speak up and tell you very articulately why it’s challenged that you continue to use this term, then I just don’t understand how it’s OK,” Obed said.
“If the true intent is to honour Inuit and some Inuit come forward and say this is the exact opposite, then what is going on? When those very same people will choose to disrespect the Inuit that come forward.”
Overall, Canadians are thinking more about relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis, and an increasing amount of people want to have conversations about how to better respect Indigenous peoples. Nearly a year ago, Edmonton discontinued the use of their former name and set out on finding a new one.
‘What, to me, it speaks to is there is a complete disassociation between the term that was being used and Inuit ourselves. That’s one of the reasons why we need to do away with Indigenous mascots, to take the temperature down between the relationship with the Indigenous peoples in Canada,” Obed said.
“Also, to do anti-racist acts, to find ways in which the path to racism is not clear and easy. I know that was not the intention at the time and that was not the intention of hundreds of thousands of Edmonton fans who grew up cheering for that particular team. I did expect the huge pushback from Edmonton fans which remains to this day who didn’t want to see the name change.”
“But we’re now in a different time and place. And nobody has to look back and say, ‘Oh, wow, I participated in something that made me racist.’ People can look back and say we participated in a time where we didn’t know as much. And now, knowing what we know, we change accordingly and still be proud of our institution, of our history, of our team, but even more proud of our future.”
“Some people within a society are being targeted by the use of a particular term as an ethnic slur, and have been deeply hurt, and are still hurting from weaponizing this particular word. There can be a mutual respect and a real partnership.”
“Why can’t we support those people? Isn’t that the best way to move forward? Recognize that people have been hurt by this and that we all galvanize around trying to do better so that racism is lessoned, and also that people’s human dignity is upheld and respected.”
“Because a team has a past that includes something like the Edmonton name, does not mean that all those who cheered for that team are racist. The equation is what does everyone do when it is brought forward to light.”
“Now is the time to show that you understand Inuit more than you did before and you can fully embrace the changes that have been made, and recognize the franchise is better for it moving forward.”
In November 2020, the team asked the public to join in EE Name Time, a call out to help them find the best name for the club. The process resulted in 14,833 submissions with 2,047 unique name entries from all over the world. The information gathered was processed to choose the final candidates that best fit the criteria of the organization.
In February 2021, the list of names was distilled to seven choices, which were chosen based on the findings of brand sessions held in 2020. The survey received an astounding 38,761 responses, which were broken down by location, age, and other key demographics for those who submitted their preference.
Specific outreach was done with the team’s season seat holders, alumni, players, partners, coaches, and the general public. All stakeholders were given an opportunity to participate, with plenty of time to engage.
Across all of the respondents, it became clear that Elk was highly favoured through all demographic categories. When the team heard from the players and coaches, who overwhelmingly voted for Elk, the choices became much clearer.
After lengthy debate, consultation with linguistics experts from the Oxford Dictionary and the University of Alberta’s linguistics department, the name “Elks” was finally chosen, adding the “s” to the original choice “Elk” — the new name reflects the speed, strength, and resilience of the green and gold and Northern Alberta.
“The Edmonton team has done some outreach. There are so many passionate football fans in the northern part of the Northwest Territories,” Obed said.
“There is a platform there to build upon, just because the name is the Elks now doesn’t mean that there can’t be a really positive relationship between the Edmonton CFL team and Inuit.”