CFL

Edmonton CFL team heeds sponsors' calls, accelerates review of potential name change

The Edmonton Eskimos said Wednesday they would be "accelerating our ongoing process of review" of the club's nickname following recent calls by sponsors to do so and provide an update by the end of July.

Club to seek 'further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders'

Edmonton's CFL team said it would accelerate its review of the club's nickname after recent calls by sponsors to do so and provide an update by the end of July. (John Ulan/Canadian Press/File)

The Edmonton Eskimos said Wednesday they would be "accelerating our ongoing process of review" of the club's nickname following recent calls by sponsors to do so and provide an update by the end of July.

Longtime sponsor Belair Direct, a car and home insurance company and one of the team's 13 premier partners, on Tuesday called for a change of the team's name that has been in place since the late 19th century, saying its use is no longer appropriate.

"We acknowledge and appreciate the feedback and input regarding our name," Rose Mary Phillip, the Edmonton team's vice-president of marketing and communications, said in a email to CBC Sports. "We take this issue seriously, as has been demonstrated by the three years we've spent engaging in Canada's North and conducting research related to our name.

"We recognize that a lot has occurred since this information was gathered, and as a result, we are accelerating our ongoing process of review. We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decisions moving forward."

The organization will "continue to listen carefully and with an open mind."

Call for 'concrete action'

Belair Direct, in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, said in order for the company to continue its partnership with the football organization "we will need to see concrete action in the near future, including a commitment to a name change."

Edmonton's team has seen repeated calls for a name change in the past, and faces renewed criticism as sports teams in Canada, the United States and elsewhere are urged to remove outdated and sometimes racist names and images.

However, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation — which represents Inuit who live in Canada's western Arctic region — said it does not take exception to the term "Eskimo" and said it supports the use of the word "as long as it is used in a respectful manner."

"It was developed by a First Nations group to describe a group of Inuit they were aware of," IRC chair Duane Smith said in an email to CBC News last week. 

"As it pertains to the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, they do use the term out of respect and have been reaching to the Inuit organizations and communities to develop collaborative approaches within those communities to promote education, awareness, respect, healthy recreational pursuits and reconciliation."

He acknowledged that not all Inuit will agree, but said "education and awareness amongst Inuit about this term will further understanding and respect for it."

Jordin Tootoo, the first player of Inuk descent to play in the NHL, issued a statement regarding the controversy Wednesday asking the organization to clarify the origin of the name.

"I encourage the Franchise to explain why they chose the name Eskimos in the first place. Was it racially charged, or, was it because of admiration for the ability of the Eskimos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience?," the statement read.

"The name of the Edmonton Eskimos is not objectionable to me. This does not mean they should keep the name. But, I think the discussion should be around how the Inuk people feel about it. Some might feel pride. Some might feel hurt. Either way, that is the group that should be consulted."

Study found 'no consensus' to support name change

Five years ago, Canada's national Inuit organization said it was time for a change.

"It isn't right for any team to be named after an ethnic group," said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada's 60,000 Inuit.

Last Friday, the team reiterated that it would not change its name, but promised to increase its engagement with Inuit communities to evaluate their views on it.

In February, the Edmonton organization announced it would keep the name, saying it had conducted a yearlong research process that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. That study, the team said, found "no consensus … to support a name change."

Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd., which has a product partnership with the team, said it has spoken with Edmonton team management and shared its concerns about the name.

"We have asked them to strive for consensus about their name in their community engagement activities with Inuit communities as soon as possible," spokesperson Kathy Murphy said in an email.

A Jiffy Lube location in Edmonton supports the further engagement, wrote Kelly McClung, vice-president of marketing and operations for Lube-X and Jiffy Lube operator in Canada.

"We look forward to hearing feedback from their ongoing discussions," she said.

Fellow sponsor Fisherman's Friend also expressed support for the re-engagement.

Blackhawks keeping name

The threat from Belair Direct comes days after the Washington NFL team's stadium sponsor FedEx, along with other sponsors, asked the team to change its name.

The Washington Redskins, whose name contains a racial slur, responded Friday, saying it would undertake a review. Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, who retired their racist caricature "Chief Wahoo" logo in 2018 but kept their name, also said Friday they would review their name.

WATCH | Washington NFL team reviewing team name:

The NFL's Washington Redskins say they will undergo a "thorough review" of the team's Indigenous-slur name, after pressure from sponsors and an international focus on racism. 2:06

On Tuesday, the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks said they will continue to use their team name because it honours a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.

"The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois' Sac and Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public," the team said in a statement Tuesday. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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