Two Esko High School students created competing petitions about the school’s mascot, the Eskomo.
Karin Anderson said she started a petition to change the name after she researched both the name Eskimo, and the history of the Esko school mascot.
She said she is not comfortable with the school mascot, the Eskomo, which is used with an igloo.
“I didn't know Eskimo was a slur at first,” Anderson said. “It’s always bugged me, I felt like it was wrong.”
Even though Eskomo is spelled differently than the word Eskimo, which refers to Native Alaskans, Anderson said she still feels the name is a slur.
In the change.org petition, the 17-year-old said, “the watered down version of Eskomo is still offensive and ... using indigenous people as a mascot is dehumanizing and racist.”
Fellow Esko High School senior Alex Bourgeault saw Anderson’s petition and said he decided to start one of his own to keep the Eskomo name.
In his change.org petition, he said, “It really ain’t that deep.”
Bourgeault said his understanding is that the name was originally from one of the community’s founding families, the Eskos, who the community and school district is named after. He said in the school's earlier days, the sports team for the Esko School District was Esko Mos.
The local history book, "Esko’s Corner, An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township" said the first Esko sports teams in the 1920s had “Lincoln” on the front of their sports jerseys. Lincoln is the name of the high school in the Esko School District. In the 1940s the name was changed to the Esko-Mos and later shortened to Eskomos, according to the book.
Bourgeault said he created his petition because he wants people to put more thought into both sides before making a decision.
Bourgeault said he is against racism and would like to see people channeling their energy into making changes at a legislative level instead of locally with the Esko School mascot.
“Removing every race from products and names is not going to end racism,” Bourgeault said. “It runs deeper than that."
In Bourgeault's research on the topic, he said he learned Eskimo is a French word meaning "one who nets snowshoes" and is an observation and not a derogatory word, according to NPR.org.
Both students are surprised at the attention and support each petition has garnered. Both surpassed their goals of 1,500 signatures.
“I thought there would be more backlash and less support,” Anderson said.
The teens offered a few ideas for a new name/logo for the Esko School District.
Bourgeault suggested going back to the original Esko-Mos, while Anderson suggested the community get involved in choosing a new name/logo for the school district.
She said she understands that changing the logo will cost the district money and said she would volunteer to help raise money.
Esko Superintendent Aaron Fischer said he did not have any public comment when the Pine Journal reached out to him late last week. However, KBJR reported that Fischer said the school board hadn't discussed changing the nickname and didn't have any plans to do so.
Anderson initially planned to speak during the Esko School Board meeting about the petition Monday, July 27. However, she had to work. Bourgeault was also busy during the meeting time. Both teenagers emailed letters stating their positions.
Fischer read their letters to the board during the open comment portion of the meeting. Anderson noted in her letter that her petition to change the school mascot and logo has now surpassed 2,000 signatures of support. She said that the Esko School District has 92% white students and a Finnish mascot would be more fitting.
Bourgeault encouraged the school board to not fold to the demands of a virtual signing mob.
Fischer said he appreciated that the students felt comfortable and empowered enough to share their points of view. He also reminded the board members that Bourgeault and Anderson are high school students, and they should be respected.
Two members of the Esko class of 1997 spoke in support of changing the name after the students' letters were read.
Rebecca Nelson said she thinks having the Eskomo mascot is a micro-insult against Native Alaskan people.
"I feel we all deserve equal respect," Nelson said.
Mike Jokela said he and his siblings were born and raised in the Esko area. He said he understands that the Eskomo name has its origins in the original Esko family, community and school district and has been a part of the school for around 80 years.
While he believes there was not any ill intent with the name Eskomo, Jokela said the imagery of an Eskimo in the school and the igloo have clear ties to Alaskan Native people.
"I think the country is having a moment," Jokela said.
He listed several sports teams and businesses that have changed their names and mascots, including the Fighting Sioux who are now the Fighting Hawks.
He said he knows there will be hard costs involved and that it will take time.
"A part of me will be sad," Jokela said. "But it's time."
This story was updated at 8:40 p.m. July 27 with comments from people who spoke at Monday's Esko School Board meeting. It was originally posted at 3:06 p.m. July 27.