Edmonton CFL team decides on ‘Elks’ as new name

Change prompted by years of criticism of its old name, the Edmonton Eskimos.

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Despite a new name, the Edmonton Elks will continue to use the same colours and double E logo as before. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

Edmonton’s Canadian Football League team has a new name: The Edmonton Elks.

“Re-branding a team is hard,” Chris Presson, president and CEO of the football club, said in a Tuesday news release. “Re-branding a team with 100 years of history is even more challenging and we worked hard to meld that history with something new and meaningful.”

The change is prompted by years of criticism of the team’s previous name, the Edmonton Eskimos. For the past year, after the team promised to change its name, it was simply known as the EE Football Team.

In a short-lived online survey last year, the team said it took its original name to acknowledge the “perseverance and hardiness of Inuit culture.”

But in recent years the name has caused substantial debate.

In 2015, Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, called for the team to change its name, saying, “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,” he wrote in an op-ed.

Obed’s calls eventually led to the club conducting a review of its name that it described as “an extensive year-long formal research and engagement program,” which included meetings with Inuit and community leaders in Iqaluit, Inuvik, Yellowknife and Ottawa, as well as a telephone survey conducted among Inuit across Canada.

In early 2020, following that review, the team announced that the name would remain unchanged.

The news was welcomed by some, including Nunavut MLA and cabinet minister Lorne Kusugak, who spoke of the decision during the winter sitting of the territorial legislature last February.

“I’m proud that the Edmonton Eskimos will keep the name,” he said.

“Everybody else who thinks it is offensive, settle down, take a valium, and don’t be so sensitive.”

In the months that followed, the deaths of Black and Indigenous people at the hands of police in both the United States and Canada spurred a renewed call for the removal of emblems of both countries’ colonial pasts.

This time, calls to change the name also came from some of the team’s major sponsors, including Belairdirect, which threatened to pull their support if the football team didn’t reconsider its name.

On July 21, after months of consultation and public pressure, the franchise announced it would drop its name.

In November 2020, the team asked the public for help to find the best name for the club.

After outreach and surveys, it was found that that the name “Elk” was popular.

From there, the franchise consulted linguistics experts from the Oxford Dictionary and the University of Alberta’s linguistics department before deciding on the name “Elks.”

The 2021 CFL season is set to begin in August and will mark the debut of the new name on field.