North

'Take a Valium,' Nunavut MLA tells naysayers of Edmonton Eskimos name

Rankin Inlet South MLA and cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak says he is proud to hear that the Edmonton Eskimos are keeping their name — despite pressures for the Canadian Football League team to drop the term that is widely considered offensive to Inuit.

Nunavut cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak says he’s proud of the football team's contentious title

Rankin Inlet South MLA Lorne Kusugak says he started watching football because of the Edmonton Eskimos. He used his members statement on Thursday to applaud the Canadian Football league team for keeping its name. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Rankin Inlet South MLA and Nunavut cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak says he is proud to hear that the Edmonton Eskimos are choosing to keep their name — despite pressure in recent years for the Canadian Football League team to drop the term widely considered offensive to Inuit. 

"I am proud that the Edmonton Eskimos will keep the name," Kusugak said during a member's statement at the legislature on Thursday.

"Anybody else who thinks it's an offence just, settle down. Take a Valium. Don't be so sensitive."

The club announced it would keep the word "Eskimos" in its name on Feb. 14. That's after it spent a year researching and engaging with northerners to field public opinion on the name. 

The club isn't making its findings public, but said that there was no clear consensus. A spokesperson told the CBC last week that there was more support for the name in the western Arctic, where the football club has more fans. 

The league's decision was announced in the midst of a broader cultural conversation about racial stereotypes and sports team names.

In October last year, hundreds of people in Minnesota marched to protest the name of the Washington NFL team, the Redskins. And that April, McGill University agreed to change the name of its varsity men's sports teams, who will no longer be called the "Redmen." 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed first challenged the Edmonton team name in 2015 when it was preparing to play in the Grey Cup championship game. 

Natan called the name an insult to Inuit, left over from an outdated time when Inuit were viewed as mascots.

A Edmonton Eskimos helmet is seen on the field during a team practice session in Winnipeg, Man., Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The team announced last week it won't change its name following complaints that the term 'Eskimo' is offensive to Inuit. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The team that made him love football 

Kusugak said his support flows from a personal story that dates to the early 70s when television first came to Rankin Inlet. 

He said he didn't know much about football because television was new to the town, but he found himself watching the game anyway because the Edmonton Eskimos were playing. 

Soon, he was cheering, and his mother — Kusugak's late mother, Kukik Kusugak, was well known and respected as an elder in Nunavut — asked him what all the excitement was about.  

"I said, 'I'm watching the Edmonton Eskimos play the Saskatchewan Roughriders,'" he told the assembly. 

"Knowing as much about football as I did, she sat down and started cheering with me. I asked her, 'Who are you cheering for?' and she said, 'The Eskimos because I am an Eskimo too.'"

Everybody just needs to slow down and take a breather.- Lorne Kusugak, MLA for Rankin Inlet South

His speech was good natured, and members in the assembly chambers chuckled. 

Kusugak said no one he knew took offence to the name.

"Everybody just needs to slow down and take a breather."

He said he hopes the conversation can be turned  back to football. 

"Today I know what a first-and-ten looks like. I know what a third down is and I know losing the Grey Cup is not fun," he said. 

"The game lives on. I'm hoping this summer will be the summer I actually get to go watch the Eskimos play live at the Commonwealth Stadium."

With files from Jordan Konek