As a lifelong fan of the team, I am glad the Edmonton Eskimos (EE) are finally changing their name.
I grew up bleeding green and gold and screaming “Calgary sucks!” until my voice was so hoarse I couldn’t breathe. My father and I would regularly go to games whenever we were able to afford them. So I do feel for the Canadian athletes on the team who grew up watching CFL games and dreaming of putting on the sacred helmet.
The EE are a team known for an emphasis on community over competition — earlier this year a player was released for making homophobic statements on Twitter. So I don’t believe the team had any malice in its effort to preserve its brand — they simply are proud of what they have built.
All that being said, the optics of using several short trips to northern communities — including Inuvik — then saying there was “no consensus” among people who were and weren’t offended by the name as their reason to keep it, then changing the name less than a month later after corporate sponsors threatened to pull their funding — do not look good at all.
In fact, I would argue this exposes an underlying problem Indigenous communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast have been pointing out for decades — whenever a colonial business interest collides with an Indigenous right, the same play gets called.
Admittedly, I was not able to follow the team the entire time when the EE came up to visit Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in October and January. I can say the players took their job seriously and did everything they could to interact with and inspire youth to believe in themselves. One player, Ryan King, loved it so much up here he came back and said he would come again if able. In no way do I want to suggest the people who physically came up here weren’t serious about making things right.
But at no point when I was in the room did I ever hear anyone mention the actual reason the team was up here — to find out if the name is offensive or not. I can only assume said talks happened behind closed doors.
Whether you’re Inuvialuit, Wet’suwet’en or Mohawk it seems to be the same story. A delegation of colonists comes to your territory, eats your food and watches a few demonstrations, gives a few words on how honoured they are to be guests, then go back and do exactly what they were going to do anyway. Whether we’re talking about football, pipelines, clean water or systematic racism, the approach is the same.
Then, someone who controls the purse strings says fix it and they suddenly change their mind. How does that look genuine?
From brands that are offensive to people who feel caricatured by them, to infrastructure projects being built on traditional lands to serve the interests of colonists hundreds of kilometres away, to women getting killed during wellness checks — these dots may seem far apart but they’re all connected.
If we’re going to deconstruct colonialism and make Canada the free, fair and fulfilling country we all wish it to be, we have to start with how we listen to each other. Right now we’re seeing plenty of dialogue, but somehow the message isn’t getting through.