Former Blackhawks forward Jordin Tootoo shared a personal statement regarding the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos team name.
The statement comes in the middle of a national debate about whether sports teams should change offensive team names, like the Washington Redskins.
When sharing his thoughts as an Indigenous Canadian, Tootoo said that context for these team names is critical.
“We should all understand what the term (Eskimo) means to the Inuk people,” Tootoo said. “My father’s generation connects with this term to describe who they are. He would refer to himself as Eskimo. My generation refers to itself as Inuk.
“What is important to me is that people understand this. And, when referring to the Inuit people, they respect that we refer to ourselves today as Inuk.”
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But Tootoo goes on to explain he is only one person, that other Inuit people may think differently, and their thoughts and feelings should be considered as well.
“I understand there are names of sports teams that bring back feelings of oppression for people and I can see why those names should be changed.
“So, this makes me ask the question, does the term Eskimo for the Edmonton franchise bring back feelings of oppression for Inuk people? For me, it does not. That is NOT a reason to keep the name. There could be others for whom it does create those feelings. But for me, it does not.”
For Tootoo the history of how the team landed on the name “Eskimos” makes all the difference.
“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 Eskmos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience?
“My point is that context really does matter. And, they need to be honest with themselves and with the public. Truth goes a long way.”
In the end, Tootoo again emphasizes he is only one person, and cannot speak for all Inuk people.
"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."
Tootoo was applauded on Twitter for his measured response, with some calling for this to be a template of future discourse.
On Wednesday, the Blackhawks provided the exact context Tootoo asked for in regards to their team name and mascot.
“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the Blackhawks said.
“We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.
“We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve. Our endeavors in this area have been sincere and multi-faceted, and the path forward will draw on that experience to grow as an organization and expand our efforts.”
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