Just like one school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a school district in Esko, Minnesota is lending their thoughts about their school mascot in the Eskimo—or in this case, the Esko-mo.
According to an article by the Pine Journal, Esko High School (EHS) student Karin Anderson set up a Change.org petition pushing for the school to change the mascot name.
Anderson said she first didn’t think of the Eskimo as a racial undertone; but after doing some extensive research, she felt the mascot name needed a change.
“I didn’t know Eskimo was a slur at first,” Anderson said. “It’s always bugged me, I felt like it was wrong.”
For those who don’t know, an ‘Eskimo’ is a name given to indigenous individuals who live up in the Northern polar regions, such as Northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.
And for a lot of people, the term is deemed ‘offensive.’ They find them that way because of its definition meaning ‘eaters of raw meat’ in Algonquian language.
In Anderson’s petition, her description states “the watered down version of Eskomo is still offensive and … using indigenous people as a mascot is dehumanizing and racist.”
With the petition going out to the public, Anderson was surprised with the amount of support she got from it.
“I thought there would be more backlash and less support,” Anderson said.
However, fellow EHS student, Alex Bourgeault, set up his own petition asking for the district to keep the name.
Bourgeault told the Pine Journal that he did his own research regarding the Eskomo name and how the school got their mascot. He also explains that he made the petition because he wants to hear from both sides on what they think of the mascot issue.
Bourgeault states in his findings that the word is derived from a French origin meaning ‘one who nets snowshoes;’ which he claims as is an observation, and not perceived as an obligatory word.
“It really ain’t that deep,” Bourgeault said. “Removing every race from products and names is not going to end racism.”
During their school board meeting earlier that week, two Esko alumni also shared their thoughts on the mascot name and petitions.
In response to the two conflicting petitions, EHS ‘97 alumni Rebecca Nelson and Mike Jokela both provided their take.
Via email, Nelson said that while the Esko-mo name fits with the town’s name, she feels it should be changed out of respect for the Inuit indigenous group.
“From a certain point of view, it’s very creative. However, the fact that specific Inuit cultural imagery has been used for years, decades really, completely over-shadows that meaning,” Nelson said.
“Unfortunately, there is no turning back to that. Whether the mascot logo it is a dark faced Inuit, a costumed character Eskimo during pep rallies, a cute Eskimo cartoon on the front of the yearbook or an igloo logo, these all are symbols of an invisible minority group.”
Jokela agreed with Nelson. He said that now would be a great opportunity for a name change.
“The School Board could in itself show courage and compassion that the name and logo is no longer appropriate, and work with the community on creating a name everyone can be proud of,” Jokela said. “This will take time, money and effort, but it would show that the school cares about indigenous peoples and respectively decides on different branding.”
“Schools are also facing tremendous challenges in 2020, but this small change would only require resolve at first.”
With Minnesota schools going back in session within the next few weeks, Anderson’s petition (as of August 3) is up to over 3,500 signatures of 5,000, while Bourgeault’s is nearing 1,800 signatures of 2,500.