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Redskins and Eskimos: do the similarities matter for Edmonton and the CFL?

Super Bowl ad pushes buttons south, and north, of the border

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Feb 4, 2014

by Tim Querengesser

The Super Bowl is part game and part television messaging war. In the social media age, the TV advertising spectacle, in which 30 seconds will set you back US $4 million, has become an event that reverberates for days afterwards. And so it has proven this year. Aside from Quvenzhane Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild telling us to consider buying a Maserati Ghibli, one ad from the American National Congress of Indians – an ad that was not aired during the Super Bowl but instead went viral on the internet afterwards – has hit close to home for Edmonton. The text of the ad, full of strong nouns to describe Aboriginal peoples in the United States, offers an explanation why:

“Navajo, Blackfoot, Inuit and Sioux. Survivor. Spiritualist. Patriot. … Forgotten. Rancher. Teacher. Doctor. Soldier. Unyeilding. Strong. Indomitable … Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t …”

The ad ends with a close-up shot of a Washington Redskins helmet, and urges people to visit, a site agitating for the NFL team, and many other sports teams, to change the name.

The Edmonton Eskimos name has been around a long, long time. But not everyone thinks it should stay around a lot longer. Days before the Super Bowl, Edmonton resident Ian MacLaren wrote the Edmonton Journal to suggest that “Edmonton needs to shed the racist name of its football team or risk remaining in the backwater that cities such as Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Atlanta and Kansas City find themselves in, with sports teams named Redskins, Indians, Braves and Chiefs.”

In 2013, I spoke with an Inuit man who told of his personal misgivings with the name, too. You can read that here.

Among the many interesting tidbits to consider is that many US sports writers now refuse to refer to the Washington Redskins moniker in their work. Another is to consider how little the CFL or Edmonton Eskimos have engaged with the difficulties surrounding the name. Yet another is to consider perhaps the most stark irony of all. As Aboriginal peoples increasingly move to cities, Edmonton now sees the country’s largest number of Inuit people outside of Nunavut. Indeed, the numbers of Inuit people here are larger than many individual communities in Nunavut.

Is it time to revisit the name? Or is this an overblown debate Edmonton and the CFL would be wise to avoid?

Let us know on social media, using the hashtag #AVChat

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