Jordin Tootoo is 37 years old and played 13 seasons in the NHL with the Nashville Predators, the Detroit Red Wings, the New Jersey Devils, and a final season with the Chicago Blackhawks. In that time, he played 723 games, scoring 65 goals and 96 assists for 161 points. It was a rather ordinary NHL career, as far as NHL careers go (not forgetting how many young men have dreamed about playing a single NHL game and never had the chance).
But Tootoo’s claim to fame – other than that he’s a good guy – is that he is the first Inuk ever to play in the NHL. And as such, he carries some responsibility for representing the Inuit people. Not many have had the platform Tootoo has had to make his views understood.
And, he’s used that forum well. Tootoo is from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Even prior to his retirement from the NHL in 2018, in 2011 he established the Team Tootoo Fund. The Fund’s goal is to help charitable causes, including nonprofits, help to address suicide awareness and prevention.
The Chicago Blackhawks Won’t Change the Team’s Name
Flash to the Chicago Blackhawks – the last team Tootoo played for. Recently, the team has hit the news again as many contend that the Blackhawks team nickname is offensive. However, the team disagrees. In fact, the team finds it quite the opposite of offensive – they believe it’s an honor to a great man.
Specifically, the organization contends that its nickname honors a real-life Native American. And, as a result, the team has no plans to change its name and logo.
As CNN News reported, “The Chicago Blackhawks’ name and logo symbolize an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans, and the public.”
The Chicago Blackhawks first joined the NHL in 1926, and it got its team name from owner Frederic McLaughlin, who was a commander during World War II serving under the 86th Infantry Division. It was nicknamed “Blackhawk Division” after Chief Black Hawk, according to the team’s website.
The team’s logo hasn’t changed since 1959-60 and is a large Native American head with feather headdress and face paint. The team noted that, “We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation.”
The team added. “Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.”
Why Is Tootoo in the News?
Closer to home in Canada, the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos are facing a similar situation to the Blackhawks. And that’s why Tootoo’s name is in the news – as an Inuit, formerly called Eskimos, he’s been asked what he believes.
Many find the Edmonton Eskimos’ team name objectionable, and there’s a movement to change it. But what about Tootoo?
Tootoo doesn’t agree – in fact, he believes the nickname might honor his people; still, he believes that doesn’t mean the Edmonton-based CFL team should keep that nickname. And, similar to the Blackhawks, the team has heard repeated calls for a name change and has faced renewed criticism as sports teams in Canada and the United States are pushed to remove outdated or racist names and images.
Tootoo Suggests a Wise Response
Tootoo’s statement on Wednesday wisely suggested that when the Eskimos engage the review about the team’s nickname, the discussion should focus “around how the Inuk people feel” about the term. He hinted that some Inuit people might feel pride and others might feel hurt.
As he said, “We should all understand what the term means to the Inuk people. My father’s generation connects this term to describe who they are. He would refer to himself as an Eskimo. My generation refers to itself as Inuk. What is important to me is that people understand this. And, when referring to the Inuit people, they respect that we refer to ourselves today as Inuk.”
Tootoo added, “I understand there are names of sports teams that bring back feelings of oppression for people and I can see why those names should be changed.”
So, Tootoo suggests. “This makes me ask the question, does the term Eskimo for the Edmonton franchise bring back feelings of oppression for Inuk people? For me, it does not. That is not a reason to keep the name. There could be others for whom it does create those feelings.”
Tootoo believes the Edmonton team should explain why it originally chose its name. He asks, “Was it racially charged, or, was it because of admiration for the ability of the Eskimos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience?”
Finally, he noted, “My point is that context really does matter. And, they need to be honest with themselves and with the public. Truth goes a long way.”
What’s to Be Done?
In a world where political correctness is often the cause for a debate where both sides can be supported, Tootoo’s suggests that the Edmonton team go to the source – that is, ask the Inuit people.
That seems like a wise thing to do. And, while I would miss the nickname – it’s all I’ve ever known the team by, I would survive. But, then, I’m not an Inuit and my father wasn’t an Eskimo.
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