See more of the story

More than 2,000 people want Esko High School to change its school mascot. Another 1,500 say they want the Eskomos to stay.

The small district south of Duluth is the latest to be caught up in a national reckoning over racist place names, statues and team mascots. Dueling petitions were presented at the Esko school board's virtual meeting Monday night, but if board members had strong feelings on the issue, they didn't share them at the meeting.

"Using this watered-down version of the word is still offensive, not to mention that using Indigenous people as a mascot is dehumanizing and racist," student Karin Anderson wrote in a petition calling for the name change. "Among the civil unrest of our country, we can no longer pretend that our school's mascot is harmless so I propose we change it to something better."

A 1997 Esko graduate, Mike Jokela, told the school board on Monday that "it's time for Esko to do that."

"I know this can't be taken lightly," he said. "Part of me would feel sad it would go. But I think it's time."

The student who started a petition to keep the name, Alex Bourgeault, said in a letter to the school board that changing the mascot would provide a "fake feeling of a win (for) racial justice," he wrote.

He cited the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police after a no-knock warrant as a place to focus policy efforts.

Esko, an unincorporated area of about 1,800 residents a few miles east of the Fond du Lac Reservation, was named for a Finnish family that opened a corner store in the area a century ago.

The district uses an igloo as its logo, and those walking into the high school are greeted with the words: "It's a great day to be an Eskomo."

Superintendent Aaron Fischer read letters from both Anderson and Bourgeault at Monday's meeting, and Fischer responded to Anderson's petition by saying: "I certainly appreciate we have a student who feels empowered enough to share her viewpoint."

There was no indication a name change would be forthcoming.

One of the signers of the keep-the-name petition, a 2005 Esko graduate, wrote that "Eskomos are not an Indigenous people, but a group of spectacular Minnesotans who have unusual pride for their school," Monica Stoddard wrote. "The name poses no threat or discrimination, so just let it go."

Edmonton's Canadian Football League team last week announced it would no longer be known as the Eskimos, saying "views regarding the team name are shifting."

"While many fans are deeply committed to keeping the name, others are increasingly uncomfortable with the moniker," the team said in a statement.

According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Eskimo is "a colonial name imposed by non-Indigenous people. ... 'Inuit' is now the current term in Alaska and across the Arctic, and 'Eskimo' is fading from use."

From 1923 to 1927 Duluth had a professional football team named the Eskimos, and last year the NFL acquired the trademark for potential use in commemorating the league's 100th anniversary.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496