The Edmonton Eskimos have promised to speed up a review of the team name and provide an update by the end of the month.
The update from the football club came Wednesday, one day after at least one of its sponsors announced it plans to cut ties with the Canadian Football League team unless it changes its name.
National car-and-home insurance provider Belairdirect said Tuesday it is rethinking their relationship.
“For several years, we have been a sponsor of the Edmonton Eskimos,” Belairdirect said in a statement issued to 630 CHED on Tuesday evening. “At Belairdirect, one of our core values is respect, which is founded on seeing diversity as a strength, being inclusive and collaborative.
“Guided by this value, in order for us to move forward and continue on with our partnership, we will need to see concrete action in the near future, including a commitment to a name change.”
The company said it wanted to acknowledge that “change is a journey” and said it has shared its position with the Canadian Football League club.
On Wednesday morning, the Eskimos said in a statement that they take the issue seriously:
“We take this issue seriously as has been demonstrated by the three years we’ve spent engaging in Canada’s North and conducting research related to our name.
“We recognize that a lot has occurred since this information was gathered, and as a result, we are accelerating our ongoing process of review.”
The team said it will be seeking further input from the Inuit community, its partners and other stakeholders “to inform out decisions moving forward.
“We’ll continue to listen carefully and with an open mind. We intend to complete our review as quickly as possible and will provide an update on these discussions by the end of this month.”
Other sponsors also expressed concerns about the name on Wednesday.
Maple Leaf Foods is in the final year of a three-year partnership with the team.
“Many important conversations are occurring right now around race and ethnicity in Canada and within our own company,” said Janet Riley, vice-president of communications and public affairs, in an emailed statement.
“Maple Leaf Foods is deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, and recognizes the need for language, behaviours and actions to be racially and ethnically sensitive and appropriate.”
The company is encouraged by the news of continued dialogue between the team and the Inuit community, she said, and looks forward to learning the outcome and next steps.
“The decision the team reaches will be considered as we evaluate our next partnership agreement with the team.”
A Jiffy Lube location in Edmonton supports the further engagement, wrote Kelly McClung, vice-president of marketing and operations for Lube-X and Jiffy Lube operator in Canada.
“We look forward to hearing feedback from their ongoing discussions,” she said.
“We’re going to wait until the conclusion of the study that the team is doing to make any further decisions,” he said when asked whether Fisherman’s Friend would continue to partner with the team regardless of its name.
An Edmonton location of The Rec Room, an entertainment space owned by Cineplex, is also listed as a premier partner of the Eskimos.
Continuing the relationship “isn’t part of our marketing plans for 2020,” wrote Sarah Van Lange, Cineplex’s executive director of communications, in an email.
“That said, we support their review of the team’s name and encourage them to do the right thing.”
Asked what the right thing is, Van Lange referred back to the original statement. However, she noted the company’s locations were closed for several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak “and all marketing plans were put on hold during that time.”
A Skip The Dishes spokesperson declined to comment and referred all questions to the team.
Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd., which has a product partnership with the team, said it has spoken with team management and shared its concerns about the name.
“We have asked them to strive for consensus about their name in their community engagement activities with Inuit communities as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Kathy Murphy said in an email.
In an email to Global News, Servus Credit Union said it recently met with representatives from the Eskimos to “better understand their perspective on concerns about the name of their organization.”
“Servus will continue to discuss the matter with club representatives and, as we always have, evaluate the risks and merits of our community partnerships based on what is right for our members, our communities and our credit union.”
As for Tim Hortons — a major sponsor of not just the Eskimos but the CFL as a whole — the restaurant chain said it has been in touch with the team, but “they can best speak to their review process and engagement with Inuit communities.”
Over the years, Edmonton’s CFL football team has come under fire for its name on many occasions, with some people arguing it is racist and shows a lack of respect for Indigenous people in northern regions of Canada and the U.S.
The NFL’s Washington Redskins team has received similar criticism as Edmonton’s football team. Earlier this month, the Redskins announced that the team would be conducting “a thorough review” of its name.
The Eskimos tweeted at that time that its team was not wavering from its previous position that it plans to ramp up consultation with the Inuit community.
In February, the Eskimos said the team’s research and engagement program “included meetings with Inuit leaders and community leaders in Iqaluit, Inuvik, Yellowknife and Ottawa, a research phase with a combination of in-depth interviews with Inuit across the north and in Edmonton, and a telephone survey among a broad group of Inuit across Canada.”
At that time, the team said there were a “range of views” regarding its name, but no consensus emerged to support changing it.
On Tuesday, Global News reached out to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a non-profit organization that represents more than 60,000 Inuit, for its response to the football team being challenged by a sponsor to change its name.
A spokesperson for ITK said the organization had no statement at this time, but said it stands by comments its president made in a 2015 op-ed.
In the column, Natan Obed explains why he believes the Edmonton Eskimos name is harmful to the Inuit.
“Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has demanded that the Edmonton Canadian Football League team stop using the moniker ‘Eskimos’ as part of an ongoing fight against colonization in the name of reconciliation,” reads part of Obed’s column published by Nunatsiaq News. “This stance has been supported by many Inuit, although I fully understand and appreciate that not all Inuit view the term as offensive.
“The colonial legacy of naming is about power and control. The issue of Inuit being used as a sports team mascot matters, because this is the way this legacy continues to play out in popular culture.
“This issue is about our right to self-determine who we are on our own terms. We are not mascots or emblems.”
In 2017, Winnipeg’s mayor suggested Edmonton’s CFL team should have a more “inclusive” name. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called for a “conversation” around the name.
According to results from a poll that were released about a week later, 12 per cent of Albertans surveyed said the name was unacceptable.
Corus Entertainment, Global News’ parent company, has been a long-standing partner of the team.
–With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED and the Canadian Press