Edmonton Eskimos name an insult to the Inuit, says local Inuk woman

For Norma Dunning, the term “Eskimos” is an insult which harkens back to a time when the Inuit were seen as unintelligent cavemen.

Because of this, the Inuk scholar and author is calling on Edmonton’s storied CFL franchise to change their name.

The term “Eskimo” is a demeaning reminder of how the Inuit were viewed, and discriminated against, during the colonization of Canada’s North, said Dunning, who has lived in Edmonton for 25 years.  

Because of its prejudiced connotations, Inuit don’t use the term to describe themselves, said Dunning, a PhD student in Indigenous People’s Education at the University of Alberta.

She is also the author of a fiction collection inspired by unfair characterizations of Canada’s Arctic made by historic anthropologists, and one of the founding members of an Inuit community group called the Edmontonmiut, which means “Inuit people from Edmonton.”

‘Derogatory and unnecessary’

“It has to do with how archaeologists and anthropologists from hundreds of years ago made use of that word, and their writings of what we were at that time,” Dunning said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“The renderings of the anthropologists were generally that we were a people with a low intelligence, and very caveman-like. That word and that image that came forward at the time — and still comes into play today — is derogatory and unnecessary.

“It’s time to get rid of it and recognize Inuit people as modern day people.”

Norma Dunning, an Inuk woman and PhD student in Indigenous People’s Education at the University of Alberta, is calling for the Edmonton Eskimos to change their name. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC)

The controversy surrounding the Edmonton Eskimos name has plagued the franchise for the past few years. It flared up again last week when Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman publicly called on the club to opt for something “more inclusive.”

In response, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson urged the club to move quickly on a name change or risk having the 2018 Grey Cup “beset by a very charged conversation.”

In August, Eskimos president and chief executive officer Len Rhodes said the club was consulting with Indigenous leaders but had no plans to change the Eskimos name.

In a statement, the club said it treated the Eskimos name with positivity and the “utmost respect.”  

But there is no pride or respect in using a term which is considered an insult by so many, and this apparent dedication to the name reflects poorly on the entire city, Dunning said.

Honouring Inuit culture would be an important contribution to ongoing reconciliation efforts and in putting forward a progressive image for Edmonton, she added.

“We have a very small window of time that we call reconciliation, and I believe it’s up to all of us to make a contribution,” Dunning said.

“One of the ways to do that is to eliminate team names that represent Indigenous people in a derogatory, and less-than way.”

‘It is a big deal’

According to the 2016 census, there are about 1,115 Inuit living in Edmonton.

“We’re a very small and a very quiet population,” she said. “Our visibility is low and we are not recognized as southern Inuit people as it is, and that lack of visibility may contribute to people thinking, ‘Well it’s no big deal.’

“But it is a big deal.”

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC.

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