President of Edmonton Eskimos visits N.W.T. to talk controversial team name

Len Rhodes is consulting with Northerners in Yellowknife and Inuvik as part of the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club’s community engagement process regarding the team name.

Len Rhodes visiting Inuvik and Yellowknife during 3-day trip to territory

Len Rhodes, the president of the Edmonton Eskimos football club, in a file photo. Rhodes plans to speak to Nunavummiut after his N.W.T. consultations this week about the team's name. (Tim Adams/CBC)

Northerners are letting the Edmonton Eskimos know what they think of the team's name.

The president and CEO of the team came to Yellowknife on Tuesday. Len Rhodes is consulting with Northerners in Yellowknife and Inuvik as part of the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club's community engagement process regarding the team name. He's in the N.W.T. until Thursday.

"At this point we just want to know the thoughts. We just want an open dialogue and feedback," said Rose Phillip, vice-president of marketing and communications for the Edmonton Eskimos.

The team has done some consulting in the previous months, including surveying season-ticket holders to see what they think of the team's name. Opinions over the team name have been split, with some people finding the name empowering and others finding it offensive.

"It's tough to talk about Indigenous people if we don't go to the North. It's a very important part of the process," said Phillip.

She said no results will be released from the survey yet and it is too early to know if the team will change its name.

Raw meat eaters

Suzie Napayok, the acting chair of the Yellowknife Inuit Association, wants the name changed.

"The word 'Eskimo' is actually taken from the Cree language, which means our raw meat eaters," she said. "We may be raw meat eaters, but that's not all we do."

Napayok said the name gives the impression that Inuit are predatory and dominating people, which is incorrect.

Napayok said she knows there are Inuit in the west that support the title because "they think it reflects our unique toughness," said Napayok.

Mary Kayasark, from Kugaaruk, doesn't mind the name but says the team should visit young people in Nunavut. (Mary Powder/CBC)

"I'm sure they have other names they can use," she added, pointing to the Montreal Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Theresa Amirallak, an Inuk woman from Taloyoak likes the name — she says it's part of the reason she cheers for the team.

"I thought it was really cool," she said. "I'm a raw meat eater, so I don't mind it."

It's a sentiment echoed by Mary Kayasark, from Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

"They've had that name for a while now, I don't mind," she said. "It's going to help our young people."

"I'd like to see them come visit Nunavut communities."

'It's a racist term'

Natan Obed, president of ITK, says the name is a throwback to a different time, when Inuit were considered to be mascots. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which represents 60,000 Inuit, has made its position clear on the matter.

"This is something from another time, when Inuit people were mascots, were monikers," said Natan Obed, president of ITK.

"It's a racist term for some people … It has been used for hate against Inuit."

Obed said ITK was not invited to this round of consultations, which was surprising to the organization.

The Edmonton Eskimos Football Club will also travel to Nunavut, but there have not been any dates set yet for those visits.