Local email campaign putting pressure on Edmonton CFL team to change its name

A new email campaign is putting pressure on Edmonton’s CFL team to change its name, for being, as one Inuk writer calls it, outdated and insulting.

Campaign sends messages to team's corporate sponsors to push for change

A sponsor for the Edmonton CFL team threatened to cut ties on Tuesday unless the organization committed to changing its name. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

A new email campaign is putting pressure on the Edmonton Eskimos CFL team to change its name, for being, as one Inuk writer calls it, outdated and insulting.

Tell the Sponsors: Change the Name is the initiative launched by Progress Alberta alongside Norma Dunning, an Edmonton-based Inuk writer.

The campaign offers supporters the opportunity to send an email to the team's 36 corporate partners, asking them to request a name change or end their relationship with the team.

Dunning said the atmosphere and interest around this request has changed significantly, especially in the last month.

"I've been blabbing about this for seven years, and for me it's the most support I have seen for a name change," said Dunning, who was interviewed on CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday morning.

A local Inuk writer wants the Edmonton football team to change its name. We'll hear more about her campaign. 7:55

As of Tuesday afternoon, 778 people had signed up to add their name to the email campaign.

Pressure on the team to alter its longtime moniker ramped up last week when Belairdirect, a major sponsor, announced it would sever its relationship with the team unless the name was changed. Boston Pizza, another sponsor, announced this week it would end its sponsorship too.

That pressure increased further when Washington's NFL team announced on Monday it would retire its name and logo after pressure from its corporate sponsors.

The Edmonton team declined to comment on Tuesday about the email campaign.

Instead it reiterated comments from the previous week saying it acknowledges and appreciates feedback on the name, and that it spent three years researching the name and seeking feedback in northern communities.

"We recognize that a lot has occurred since this information was gathered, and as a result, we are accelerating our ongoing process of review," the official statement from the team said.

"We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decisions moving forward.  We'll continue to listen carefully and with an open mind."

On Monday, a survey conducted by Abacus Data on behalf of the team was sent to the team's partners and stakeholders, including season ticket holders.

The survey sought demographic information before asking for an opinion on the team's name and whether it should be changed, with a series of multiple choice questions. The poll, closed to fans by Tuesday, garnered backlash online for being biased.

Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, called the survey a "ridiculous push poll," adding he was unsurprised at the negative reaction it received.

"I don't understand what they thought was going to happen," Kinney said.

"It's pretty obvious they were looking for a certain result with the language and the options they had in the poll."

The focus of the team's outreach should be the population of more than 1,000 Inuit living in Edmonton, Dunning said.

She added that she doesn't understand how the name could still be used by the team when it isn't a word Inuit commonly call themselves.

"If we can think about all the racial slurs that go out against so very many ethnicities and we can automatically think this is wrong, we cannot talk about people or an ethnic group in a derogatory way, I don't understand how come that connection is not made with an Indigenous name," Dunning said.

A frequent response to this criticism is that the team name is "only a word," Dunning said. But she added this statement is only true to people who aren't Inuit, and that this shows the lack of information much of the mainstream public has about the Inuit in Canada.

Dunning's recently-released second book, Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity, covers topics similar to the issues she has with Edmonton's football team, as it looks at the way many people think about the Inuit.

"Inuit are not able to be modern or to be progressive peoples, but we are. But we live under these crazy images of somebody at a seal breathing hole with a harpoon, and that's the expectation from mainstream," Dunning said.