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Eskimos named in pride, not racism

If ever there was a prime example of the disconnect between what different people view as important, it's the revived kerfuffle over the nickname of Edmonton's Canadian Football League team, the Eskimos.

Kivalliq News Editor Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News Editor Darrell Greer

As hard as it is to accept for those trying to impose their will, I personally believe the overwhelming sentiment of Inuit who call Kivalliq home wish those living outside of Nunavut would focus their attention on more important issues.

You know, like Nunavut's housing crisis, food insecurity, upgrades to health and education programs, crime, suicide, the unemployment rate, elder facilities, the cost of living, transportation and ... well, you get the picture.

Looking anecdotally at the views of those locals I know – through Facebook, inbox queries and e-mails – I believe people are, in the majority, not offended by the name of Edmonton's football team and wish the entire matter would just go away.

I wasn't there when Eskimos was decided upon as the name for the team but, if I had to hazard an optimistic guess, it would have been because the people involved associated the word with Inuit strength, toughness, ingenuity, an ability to adapt to almost any situation, spirit and determination to survive and succeed.

I doubt a crazy white guy named Edmonton's football team after such a storied and proud people for the express purpose of making a lasting, public racist statement.

Of course, many would say that's not the point – that racism also works in a subtler, more insidious way, through stereotypes, negative imagery and representations.

But in just the past month our advanced society has attacked Corn Pops, marijuana and now the Edmonton Eskimos in an attempt to make the world a better place.

Maybe it's my age, but I can't help wonder if some of these people could recognize what old-timers would call a 'true racist' if he or she was living beside them and not flying the Confederate battle flag over their home. I joke, but you get the point.

One thing every sports team asks of its players is to have more pride in the crest of the front of their jersey than the name on the back. It's a nice sentiment.

After all, did Kiviaq – the first Inuk to become a lawyer and winner of the Vanier Award as one of Canada's five outstanding young men – feel racist when he donned the colours of the Edmonton Eskimos back in 1955?

When I asked him about it in person visiting Rankin a number of years ago, I can clearly remember he said that he did not. In fact, he said he felt nothing but pride, something he reiterated to the media not long ago.

That pride was followed by heartbreak when he was injured during an exhibition game that ended his CFL career.

Having lived in Rankin Inlet for almost 20 years and having growing to love the territory and all its people, I believe the Edmonton Eskimos are the least of our worries, except, of course, on the odd Grey Cup day.