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Honour or Insult? Canadians divided over movement to change Indigenous team names

Honouring cultural traditions or disrespect through caricature? This is the fundamental debate over use of Indigenous names and imagery in sports in recent years.

For decades North American sports teams have utilized Indigenous and other ethnocultural imagery and nomenclature. In some cases, this has been rather overt – the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Edmonton Eskimos – while in others the references to these groups have been more indirect, such as the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs or Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish.

A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians divided on whether or not the practice of using such terminology and logos should continue in the face of protests and team name changes across the country.

Slightly more than half (56%), driven by men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 55, say that these teams should not make changes to the names that fans have grown accustomed to over the years.

However, more than four-in-ten (44%), led by majorities of young women and those with university educations, say that these names should, in fact, be changed to ensure that no offence is given to communities that may feel ostracized by their usage.

The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos are a source of concern for a number of Canadians. The team name is seen to be offensive by three-in-ten (29%). The generational aspect of this debate is again highlighted with respect to the term Eskimos. More than two-in-five (44%) 18-to-34-year old’s find the name offensive, compared to just 18 per cent over the age of 55. In recent months, the team has been researching the impact of its name and consulting with Inuit communities, and says that no plans to change the name are imminent.

More Key Findings:

  • For many, this is a discussion with degrees of intensity. For example, more than four-in-ten (43%) express concern about either the name or logo of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians. Many, but far fewer, say that the same problems exist with the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs (24% in each case).
  • A majority of Canadians (56%) say that McGill University made the correct decision in recently deciding to discontinue its use of the name ‘Redmen’ for the campus’ male sports teams. Though it was initially meant to reference the team’s primary red uniform colour, the school incorporated Indigenous imagery over the decades.
  • This is also not a discussion that is limited entirely to Indigenous symbols and names. Just as many Canadians say they have an issue with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish name and logo as they do with the aforementioned Braves or Chiefs.

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