Tootoo says Edmonton team name discussion should centre on feelings of Inuk people

Jordin Tootoo says he doesn't find the Edmonton Eskimos' team name objectionable, but that doesn't mean the CFL club should keep it.

Edmonton promised to speed up a review of its name and provide an update at the end of the month after at least one of its sponsors announced it plans to cut ties with the team unless it changes its name.

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The team has seen repeated calls for a name change in the past and faces renewed criticism as sports teams in Canada, the United States and elsewhere are urged to remove outdated and sometimes racist names and images.

Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, said in a statement released Wednesday that the discussion should be "around how the Inuk people feel" about the term. He said some might feel pride while others might feel hurt.

"We should all understand what the term means to the Inuk people," he said. "My father's generation connects this term to describe who they are. He would refer to himself as an 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.

"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," Tootoo added. "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."

Tootoo said the team should explain why it originally chose its name.

"Was it racially charged, or, was it because of admiration for the ability of the Eskimos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience?" he said. "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."

Tootoo, from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, played 13 seasons in the NHL with Nashville, Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago. The 37-year-old retired in 2018.

He established the Team Tootoo Fund in 2011. The fund's website says its goal is to help charitable causes, including nonprofits, address suicide awareness and prevention.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020

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