On a day that was supposed to be all about the numbers, Edmonton’s Canadian Football League club’s annual general meeting was overshadowed by the very letters making up the team’s nickname — one whose calls for change are only growing louder.
The echoes didn’t escape Wednesday’s proceedings either, where, as expected, times of unprecedented change amid a global pandemic that threatens the entire 2020 season have left a bleak outlook and uncertainty on the team’s economic horizon.
But before getting down to the bottom line of the 2019 season that was, board of directors chairwoman Janice Agrios provided an update on the internal research that has been taking place on the way to their on-again, off-again decision to stick with the name.
“We continue to be proud of the work we have done to engage with Inuit communities,” she read from her report, via video conference to board members, shareholders and invited media. “Based on the feedback from our research and engagement program with Inuit communities, we invested time and resources to establish a Northern Community Engagement Program to strengthen the ties between the club and Inuit communities.
“In the last year, players and other club representatives visited schools in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, participated in the Inuvik Sunrise Festival and took part in school visits and a youth gathering in Norman Wells. The club also hosted the Youth Service Award winners at a home game. Although these activities have been paused due to COVID-19, we will work with these and other northern communities to resume these programs as soon as it is safe to do so.”
That much was already known. But the community-owned club has come under criticism lately over the lack of transparency in its research process, and while they offered up some numbers Wednesday, they did nothing to make the picture any clearer on exactly how their figures were reached.
“We began our research and engagement program three years ago because we believed that it was of utmost importance to have input from the Inuit regarding our name,” Agrios said. “The research revealed that 78 per cent of the western Arctic Inuit oppose the team changing (it). In Nunavut, where we are still working on building our relationships, 55 per cent of Inuit oppose a change … In the eastern Arctic, where the results identified little connection to the team, 31 per cent of Inuit oppose a name change.”
She added for those Inuit who view the name positively, “the dominant theme is pride. The concept that a sports team with national recognition chooses to use the name of a relatively small group of people is seen as a nod of respect and admiration.
“Due to the recent debate concerning our name, we have committed to seeking further input on this topic. Our perspective that Inuit input is crucial to this process has not changed. Outreach and discussions have commenced, and we will provide an update on this matter by the end of July 2020.”
While the idea of a name change isn’t new, it’s one that has been gaining traction since the team’s last foray into the national spotlight during its 2015 Grey Cup championship, and began snowballing after the club posted a tweet in support of racial injustice following the George Floyd tragedy.
It opened the floodgates for responses pointing out the hypocrisy involved from a club whose name has been called offensive and racist by members of Canada’s Inuit community, to the point where a major sponsor has threatened to pull the plug if the name isn’t changed.
And with one big domino toppling down south this week, as Washington’s NFL club retired both its name and logo, it seems inevitable Edmonton will follow suit once their latest review is complete by the end of the month.
Of course, the argument to keep the name hasn’t been entirely convincing, so far. When the club stated in February no consensus had been reached, so there would be no change made, it begs the question since no consensus was reached, why not make a change?
And what exactly makes consensus in this case? Fifteen per cent? Twenty five? Fifty plus one? Or is the fact that any of the feedback from the Inuit communities surveyed telling the team it has an offensive name enough to delete the term from our vocabulary, such as this article has done without taking anything away from its message?
If it is indeed out with the old, what will be ushered in as a replacement?
One possibility being bandied about by the public is the Edmonton Empire, a name the team had trademarked a couple years ago that would allow them to keep the iconic double-E logo.
Of course, considering one of the main strikes against the old name is it was a colonial term forced upon those living in Canada’s northern climes back in the Age of Imperialism in the first place, it’s not too much of a stretch to see something like that as just another slap in the face of Inuit communities.
And besides, the dynastic days of Edmonton’s five-in-a-row Grey Cups it conjures up are long behind them.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020