Former Eskimo who took Grey Cup to Nunavut thinks name change a good gesture

A former Edmonton Eskimo who once visited Nunavut with the Grey Cup says it's time to respect that the team's name is considered offensive to aboriginals.

'We have to honour the aboriginal communities': Andre Talbot travelled with the Grey Cup to Nunavut in 2012

Edmonton Eskimos' Andre Talbot, top, loses his shoe as he jumps over B.C. Lions' Davis Sanchez in 2010. Talbot, now retired, thinks it's time for the Edmonton football team to change its name. (The Canadian Press)

A former Edmonton Eskimo who once visited Nunavut with the Grey Cup says it's time to respect that the team's name is considered offensive to aboriginals.

"We have to honour the aboriginal communities of our great country and respect the fact that the name is deemed offensive and oppressive to these communities," Andre Talbot said from Toronto, where the retired 2004 Grey Cup champion played for the Argonauts but spent his final season in 2010 with Edmonton.

"Sports organizations need to be community building organizations. And if we're isolating and offending part of that community, then our particular organization or league is not doing its job."

In 2012, Talbot was part of a 100th anniversary tour of the Grey Cup that stopped in Iqaluit, and the trip involved more than just posing for pictures with the trophy. For two days, Talbot visited community centres and spoke with youth, answering their questions and even playing touch football with them.

He learned the region faces high rates of depression, suicide and diabetes. He called it a huge wakeup for someone who hasn't been around aboriginal communities that much, noting their concerns are sometimes forgotten by other Canadians.

Changing the Eskimos team name, Talbot said, would be a small, but positive gesture. 

"It's an opportunity to just show that we do care, we are listening and we are willing to evolve," said Talbot, who now operates a yoga and movement-based studio.

The president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada's 60,000 Inuit, said Friday that it isn't right for any team to be named after an ethnic group

Natan Obed called the term Eskimo is a relic of a past in which Inuit people had no control over their lives or even what they were called. He said he would be offended if someone called him Eskimo.

Eskimo team officials have consistently defused the issue by saying they have never had an official complaint.

There's been vigorous debate over the use of ethnic mascots, particularly aboriginal-themed ones, for sports teams. Perhaps the biggest controversy swirls around the Washington Redskins in the National Football League.

Talbot said if Canadian organizations like Edmonton take the lead and change, maybe other organizations in the U.S. will follow. 

"Our job is listen to people, to hear what they're saying and recognize that this type of language or use of image just needs to change. For me it's a simple solution," Talbot said.