On Wednesday, former Brandon Wheat King and current retired NHL player Jordin Tootoo released a public statement on the controversy surrounding the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos and the idea of the club considering pursuing a name change.
In recent weeks, the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the MLB’s Cleveland Indians, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the aforementioned Eskimos have launched internal investigations into the racial connotations surrounding their current namesakes. Serving as both the first Inuk player and the first player from Nunavut to lace up in the NHL, Tootoo felt the need to chime in with his personal thoughts on the matter. His media release is as follows:
“Many people and media outlets have contacted me to ask my position around the controversy surrounding the name of the Edmonton Eskimos CFL franchise.
My position is this:
We should all understand what the term means to the Inuk people. 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 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.
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.
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 Eskimos 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 closing, the name of the Edmonton Eskimos is not objectionable to me. This does not mean they should keep the name. But, 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, 37, was originally born in Churchill, MB. and raised in Rankin Inlet, NU. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound pugilist played junior with the OCN Blizzard of the MJHL, earning 251 penalty minutes in his only single season in the league. He then moved on to the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, where he put up 93 goals, 209 points and 874 penalty minutes in four seasons of work.
His time playing for Canada at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Hockey Challenge was his career highlight, prior to making his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators in 2003. Tootoo spent nine years with the Predators organization before moving on to play with Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago, before officially announcing his retirement last year. His NHL stat-line reads: 65 goals, 161 points and 1,010 penalty minutes in 723 regular season games.