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By Brittany Da Silva
When searching the term “Eskimo” in the Oxford dictionary, the noun is defined as a “member of an indigenous people inhabiting northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and eastern Siberia, and traditionally living by hunting seals and other Arctic animals and birds and by fishing.”
While there may be no outwardly negative connotations reflected in this most basic definition of the term, “Eskimo” has been regarded as offensive in its usage, which the Oxford dictionary attributes to its association with the now discredited etymology, “one who eats raw flesh.” For the most part, members of these Northern regions prefer the term Inuit, although “Eskimo” is still widely used.
Professional sports teams across North America have had a penchant for naming their teams and mascots after Indigenous Peoples for years, however, as Indigenous rights movements have gained recognition throughout Canada and the United States, the appropriateness of these names has been repeatedly called into question. There are many problematic and racist team names still in existence today, including the MLB’s Cleveland Indians, the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos have now become a team at the center of this debate, as Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman spoke out against Edmonton’s moniker, prior to the CFL Western Division semi-final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Bowman, Winnipeg’s first Indigenous mayor, suggested at a news conference in November that there may be an opportunity for Edmonton to adopt a “more inclusive name.”
With the 2018 Grey Cup game scheduled to be played at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, this is a discussion that must be resolved sooner rather than later. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has voiced his concerns in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM, suggesting that if the Eskimos fail to rename their CFL team by next season, the Grey Cup may be overshadowed by a heated debate over their current moniker.
Ultimately, “Eskimo” is a term that was created by others, to refer to Northern Indigenous Peoples. In contrast, “Inuit” was created and adopted by the Northern Indigenous population themselves. As it is a term applied to a people, rather than created by those people, the origins of the word “Eskimo” are racist in nature.
There are Indigenous Peoples who have been marginalized by the term “Eskimo,” therefore, the rest of the Canadian population must recognize the hurt that is inflicted upon these people by its continued use. Canada is often seen as a diverse and inclusive society in popular media, and many Canadians are proud of the fact that the rest of the world sees us as nice and polite peacekeepers. In reality, how can any of this be true when racism still exists in the very naming of our sports teams?
“Eskimo” and many other derogatory terms used against Indigenous Peoples are rooted in colonialism, defined by Oxford dictionaries as the “policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” The continued acceptance of such terms represents a widespread form of cultural imperialism that still poses a threat to Canada’s idyllic multicultural society.
The many sports teams that borrow names, imagery and mascots from Indigenous Peoples do so without the permission or approval of the people behind their team’s namesake. This is in direct contrast to team names that have been derived from settler groups, as in the case of the NBA’s Boston Celtics or the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
The term “Eskimo” perpetuates negative stereotypes against the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and fails to recognize the humanity of these individuals. It is about time that Canadians live up to their reputation by standing behind and supporting those who have been affected by colonialism. Changing the name of the Edmonton Eskimos is one more step towards the actualization of a socially just and equal Canada that we can all be proud to call home.