Some Inuit say they were in tears, while others say they’ll “believe it when [they] see it,” after Edmonton Football Club’s decision on Tuesday to discontinue the use of a controversial word in the team’s name.
“It’s always been a different foreign word to me,” said Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an Inuk filmmaker known for her work on Inuit life and culture.
“When non-Inuit would use the word Eskimo to me, it felt like they were being deliberately confrontational — like they’re dominant, they’re in control.”
Some Inuit have said the word is derogatory. The Canadian Football League club said it has begun an engagement process on a new name and will use Edmonton Football Team and EE Football team in the meantime.
We had a good ol’ celebration. We also had some tears.– Inuksuk Mackay, Inuk performer
Arnaquq-Baril recalled a conversation she had at the dinner table with her mother about this topic.
“For my mother, and for others, it [brings] up all kinds of awful memories,” she said. “When a non-Inuk would come to the door of the house, we would often rush and hide the raw food out of shame, because they were so bullied and teased for being eaters of raw meat.”
Arnaquq-Baril said she has mixed feelings about Tuesday’s announcement.
“On one hand, I think I’ll believe it when I see it, and on the other, feeling a little emotional and happy,” she said.
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Inuk performer Inuksuk Mackay has spoken out about the team’s name in the past, saying it’s oppressive.
On Tuesday, sitting with her family in their B.C. home, Mackay said the news was a victory for Inuit.
“We had a good ol’ celebration. We also had some tears,” said Mackay.
In the past, some Inuit have said they weren’t insulted by the word, and voiced their support for the moniker. They said people should focus on the territory’s housing crisis, cost of food and suicide rates instead.
This February, Nunavut cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak said he was proud to hear that the Edmonton team chose to keep their name following consultations.
“Anybody else who thinks it’s an offence just, settle down. Take a Valium. Don’t be so sensitive,” Kusugak said at the time.
Recent conversations on social media are also divisive.
One commenter on CBC North’s Facebook page wrote: “As an Inuk myself, this has gotten too far. Cancel culture is taking over too much. It doesn’t offend me to be called Eskimo.”
“We do not want them to change the name it is perfect the way it is!” wrote another.
To those who told us that they loved the name, our message is we hope that we continue to be your team.– Janice Agrios, Edmonton football team’s board chair
Others echoed Mackay and Arnaquq-Baril’s thoughts.
“About time we stop naming sports franchises after ethnic groups, racial stereotypes,” wrote one person.
“Eskimos is a racial slur,” said another.
Mackay said she doesn’t think pushing for a name change takes away from Nunavut’s pressing issues.
“We’re multitaskers. We can handle more than one thing on our plate at a time,” she said. “And this huge change is going to demonstrate that Inuit are to be taken seriously when we’re asking for change to happen.”
Mackay said she hopes more company names, mascots and logos objectifying groups of people will follow suit and change.
“There’s no need for that anymore,” Mackay said.
The Edmonton team’s board chair, Janice Agrios, says the decision to change the team’s name is part of a bigger societal change.
“It became clear to us that there were more and more people who were not comfortable with the use of the name,” the she told the CBC on Tuesday morning.
“To those who told us that they loved the name, our message is we hope that we continue to be your team.”