The potential name change for Edmonton’s Canadian Football League team has generated interesting opinions from Inuit and non-Inuit.
The main resistance to the name change, beyond passionate football fans in the south, are equally passionate Inuit football fans in the North. Like their southern counterparts, Inuit football fans appear to resent political interference in a game that is supposed to be a politics-free zone.”Leave it alone!” they insist, “it’s just a damn game and an innocent name.”
That maybe true but it’s a problem for me, even though I don’t care much about football, not nearly as much as many of my friends and family do. But I do care what my Inuit friends and colleagues think.
When I came North almost four decades ago, a young economic refugee from New Brunswick, I knew nothing about the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories, the majority of the population by far, nor did I understand much of Northern Canadian history.
Over the years, I have worked and socialized with Inuit men and women. The more I got to know them, the less forgiving they were about my ignorance of Inuit history and culture. More than once I have been sternly corrected for lazy pronunciations or frowned upon for not taking Inuit cultural issues seriously enough.
I don’t like being corrected and criticized, especially if I’m clearly wrong due to lack of either thought, understanding or experience.
Of course, one of the first lessons I learned was the accepted name was Inuit and anything else was seen as an insensitive, ignorant insult. Most Northerners know that and the southerners who still don’t know that know nothing of Inuit Canadian history.
I’ve had to explain the proper terminology more than once to friends and family down south and I’ve made sure my kids know at least some of what I have learned.
So having a prominent and beloved national football team named something that is largely considered derogatory everywhere except on a football field, in particular among Inuit I know who aren’t football fans, is a pain. It undermines if not contradicts the lessons taught to me over the years and waters down the lessons I have passed onto my kids.
So to those football execs who have to make the decision, do me a favor and change the name. To take the sting out of it for die-hard Inuit football fans, ask for suggestions on an Inuit name. That will make it truly Canadian.