CFL ESKIES LEARN WHAT’S IN A NAME
By Paul Svoboda – Total Sports
When this former ink-stained wretch was the sports editor of the Orillia Packet and Times (R.I.P.) some 30 years ago, a local high school decided to change its mascot and athletic teams nickname.
Twin Lakes Secondary School teams and athletes had been known as the Hornets since the institution’s inception but somewhere around 1990 those who ran the athletic department opted for a change. They wanted an image that was a little more powerful and also reflected the local heritage of the Orillia region.
That’s how the Twin Lakes Thunderbirds were born.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Before adopting the new moniker and logo, school officials approached the Chippewas of Rama First Nation — located across Lake Couchiching from Orillia, and now home to a popular casino — to seek approval for using the nickname.
The thunderbird is a sacred symbol in North American Native cultures, “representing power, protection and strength,” according to a website belonging to Spirits of the West Coast Art Gallery. So, TLSS admin wanted to ensure the local Native Canadian population was OK with the move.
It turns out, they were.
Earlier this summer, the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos were under fire from certain circles whose spokespeople were demanding they change their longtime nickname. Many believe Eskimos is an insulting term and considered shamefully derogatory by the Inuk people.
Jordon Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, commented on the subject in a very thoughtful Global News interview, suggesting that any discussion of changing the Eskies moniker should centre “around how the Inuk people feel.” Tootoo said some felt pride; others felt pain.
“We should all understand what the term means to Inuk people,” Tootoo told Global. “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.”
Tootoo said the Eskimos organization needed to explain in what context the team nickname was chosen. Was it adopted, he asks, “because of admiration for the ability of the Eskimos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience?”
Probably. Or, added Tootoo, was it “racially charged?”
Tootoo said the Eskimos nickname did not bother him. But he believes for others, it did.
“My point is that context really does matter,” said Tootoo in his Global interview. “And they (the team) need to be honest with themselves and with the public. Truth goes a long way.”
Meanwhile, the Eskimos have since announced that they will indeed change their team nickname. Therefore, here are five alternate suggestions, all starting with the letter “E” which would allow the club to continue using — without alteration — its nifty double-E logo and green and gold colours:
Edmonton Eagles has a nice ring to it and represents strength, independence and freedom. Eagles are perhaps the most famous predatory bird on the continent and present a fierce, aggressive image ideal for a football club.
Another proud, strong symbol of the North American wilderness, the Edmonton Elks also rolls easily off the tongue and would provide many terrific options for a spin-off logo. Edmonton’s football club was actually called the Elks, for one season in 1922, and today an amateur Rugby League team in the Alberta capital also uses the name.
The Edmonton Explorers nickname would achieve an inclusivity that embraces the early Native Canadians who are believed to have first arrived in the province thousands of years ago, and the European explorers who came later — among them, Alexander MacKenzie and David Thompson.
The cross-continental railway is stitched into the very fabric of Canada and the Edmonton Express would recognize this important part of our national identity while also offering several opportunities for a super-charged secondary logo.
The Edmonton Evergreens would pay homage to the official tree of Alberta — the lodgepole pine — which was adopted in 1984 and, according to the Government of Canada website, “was used to create the railway ties for the tracks that linked the province to eastern Canada.”
HONOURABLE MENTION: The Edmonton Engineers wouldn’t be a bad choice either, with obvious references to the whole railroad-uniting-the nation idea.