There has been an ongoing debate in the sports community for years about if teams with offensive names should change them. The argument is, now that we are so #woke as a society, it’s time to do away with team names that are offensive to groups of people (a radical concept, we know). For example, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins or, yes, the Edmonton Eskimos. These names show a lack of respect for the groups whose names they borrow at best and at worst, equate those peoples to animals — since sports mascots are most often animals.
Since the Grey Cup this past Sunday, people are already talking about next year’s game which is set to be held in Edmonton, home of the Edmonton Eskimos. A number of leaders are calling for a discussion and reconsideration of the team name including Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, the head of the ITK (The National Voice for Canada’s Inuit) and even Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian Encyclopedia states, “The word Eskimo is an offensive term that has been used historically to describe the Inuit throughout their homeland … Now considered derogatory in Canada, the term was used extensively in popular culture and by researchers, writers and the general public throughout the world.” In the very definition of the word it is called both “offensive” and “derogatory.” Yet there is still resistance to changing it.
The counter arguments in this debate are often “it’s not intended to be malicious,” “you’re too sensitive” and “aren’t there bigger issues to worry about?” None of those hold much weight if you listen to Indigenous communities, scholars and leaders. As one Indigenous Studies professor at the University of Alberta pointed out in a concise and insightful Twitter thread — “labeling this debate ‘political correctness’ or ‘virtue signaling’ or even ‘silly’ reveals far more about the debater than it does the debate. It also reveals a fundamental tenet of colonial power relations: That non-Indigenous [people] can choose when and how they have relationships with Indigenous peoples in ways that are rarely true in the reverse.” We encourage you to read it in full below.
1. because i don’t have anything better to do on weekends, I’ve been discussing with folks (on FB) about the Edmonton Eskimos term and logo.
— DrChrisAndersen (@DrChrisAndersen) November 27, 2017
By dismissing the argument that these names are offensive and should be changed, non-Indigenous Canadians pull a privilege card that Indigenous Canadians don’t have. Our society’s symbols — whether they be religious, national or sports — hold meaning and when we talk about a “silly” symbol like a team mascot, we’re really having a much larger debate about representation and who gets to determine it. It also calls into question what we’re doing with this whole Reconciliation thing if we’re not even willing to change a team’s name to stop offending a marginalized group of people.
If we’re going to commit to Reconciliation, non-Indigenous Canadians are going to have to be okay with becoming uncomfortable sometimes and having those difficult discussions. It’s the only way to ever make anything better. And yes, you might lose something along the way — like your Eskimos paraphernalia — but that’s nothing compared to what Indigenous communities have lost (and had stolen from them) over centuries.
So yeah, maybe it’s time that we change that name, Edmonton.