CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos won’t confirm reports they are changing name

EDMONTON — The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos are refusing to confirm two published reports that the team will change its name.

TSN and Postmedia are reporting the Edmonton club will make the change, following the Washington NFL team’s decision to do the same earlier this week.

A spokeswoman for the Edmonton club said the team had no update Friday morning.

Pressure has mounted in recent weeks for sports teams to eliminate racist or stereotypical names.

Critics say the Edmonton team’s name is a derogatory, colonial-era term for Inuit.

Aaron Paquette, a city councillor in Edmonton, tweeted that he met with the CFL club on Thursday and, while he didn’t confirm the name will be changed, he was “very impressed with the potential coming out of our conversation.”

“I had an extremely productive meeting with (Edmonton’s) own football team today after they accepted my invitation to share ideas & perspectives,” Paquette wrote.

“I can’t say any more but we’ll see what develops.”

In February, the Edmonton club announced it was keeping the name following year-long research that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. The club said it received “no consensus” during that review.

On July 8, the Edmonton club promised to speed up another review of its name and provide an update by the end of the month. In that statement, the club noted “a lot has happened” since it made the decision in February.

One of the team’s sponsors, national car-and-home insurance provider Belairdirect, had announced a day earlier that it was rethinking its relationship with the team because of the name.

Other sponsors also said they would welcome a review of the name.

Boston Pizza said “as part of a larger shift in our overall marketing strategy, Boston Pizza recently ended its sponsorship of Edmonton’s CFL team.” It tweeted the statement as a response to someone asking about whether it planned to follow the lead of Belairdirect.

All this happened as NFL’s Washington team said it would undergo a thorough review of its name. A similar announcement was made by Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians.

It is unclear when Edmonton would play its first game with a new name, if the change goes through. The CFL in June postponed the start of its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is no guarantee the league will play this year.

There have been repeated calls in the past for the Edmonton team to change its name.

Canada’s national Inuit organization in 2015 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. Obed has said that Inuit people are not mascots.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, citing Obed’s statement, said in 2017 that the team should take steps toward a name change.

Although American Inuit continue to use the word Eskimo, Canada’s northern people left that name behind about the same time they began negotiating their land claim in the 1970s.

Many historians believe the origin of Eskimo comes from an Algonquin term meaning “eaters of raw meat.” Others believe it comes from another Aboriginal term that refers to people wearing snowshoes.

The people themselves have used the word Inuit for centuries. It means “the people” in Inuktut.

Founded in 1949, the Edmonton team has won the Grey Cup 14 times, second only to the Toronto Argonauts at 17. The community-owned club’s impressive history on the field includes a record five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982.

Edmonton set a North American pro sports record by qualifying for the playoffs in 34 straight seasons from 1972 to 2005.

Other sports teams in Edmonton used the Eskimos name before the CFL club was founded.

There is no indication whether Edmonton has considered any possible new names.

The team applied for the trademark “Edmonton Empire” in 2018 for use on souvenir items.

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