Gabrielle Smith will change the name of her band Eskimeaux after a discussion with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. The word "eskimo" is considered a slur by the Inuit people, and Tagaq was "incensed" by Smith's use of the term. Though she was adopted, Smith knew that her birth father is Tlingit, an indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest. The band will now be known as Ó.
Tagaq began tweeting her objections to the band name on April 13, as Exclaim! reported. She said Smith was "claiming Inuit heritage," and perpetuating racist myths. "I'm tired of being reduced, diminished, dismissed. Our matriarchs are better than this," she tweeted.
Smith shared a statement with The FADER over email. She and her band have been discussing changing the name for "over a year," she wrote, and that it was a deeply personal decision behind the selection of the name. "As an adopted person I’ve struggled with finding an identity. I spent so many hours as a kid searching for information about my heritage and this was, unfortunately, the only term I came across for a long time."
Read the statement in full below.
We’ve been talking about changing the band name for a little over a year now. The band name is the gateway to the project and I never set out to make it controversial, hurt people’s feelings, or bring up a kind of hardship I haven’t personally had to endure.
As an adopted person I’ve struggled with finding an identity. I spent so many hours as a kid searching for information about my heritage and this was, unfortunately, the only term I came across for a long time. The only information I have about my birth parents is that my birth father is Tlingit and everywhere I looked for more information the word “eskimo” was commonplace. After a while it became too painful to look anymore, as everything I read had different information, and I hung onto what I was able to find and understand.
Talking to Tanya about this was what ultimately helped me make up my mind to change the band name. She and I have had really different struggles, but they don’t serve to diminish one another. She has a really important perspective that all Americans, who have a tendency to brush aside and not educate themselves or each other about the histories of indigenous peoples, would do well to listen to and learn from.
I had added the “eaux” to the end of my band name to illustrate the way I record; it’s a jumble of syllables combined to make a simple sound, “o.” Moving forward, this project will be called Ó.
Tagaq's response is below via Pitchfork. Tagaq compared Smith's use of the word "eskimo" to Black Pussy, an all-white, all male group she confronted over its name last year. But Tagaq's interaction with Smith appears to be more constructive. "Gabrielle has taught me that people can be open and respectful when mistakes are made," Tagaq wrote.
Our band has a project providing a soundtrack to the 1922 saga Nanook of the North. This project has significance became we have spent many years attempting to dissolve stereotypes surrounding Inuit culture, therefore humanizing a culture in the midst of socio-economic crisis due to post colonial fallout. The word Eskimo is a slur for many Inuit. The name being applied to a band by a non-Inuk person incensed me. I applied the same tactic that I have used a multitude of times with offending appropriators or groups (RIDM Festival, Ungava gin, Black Pussy), which was one of aggressive public scrutiny. This tactic is taken because often when I privately contact these groups they dismiss me completely until there is a public outcry. Gabrielle has taught me that people can be open and respectful when mistakes are made. I am very pleased with this outcome of the band name change and our impending friendship. Pleasant surprises.