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Eskimeaux change name to Ó, following criticism from Tanya Tagaq

Eskimeaux, the project of Gabby Smith (who used to play in Frankie Cosmos’ band and was a member of the now-defunct Epoch collective), have changed their band name. Two years ago, Gabby posted a statement defending criticisms against the name, saying “I was adopted. The only information I have about my birth family or blood line is that my birth father is Tlingit eskimo. The Tlingit tribe in Alaska considers the designation “eskimo” to be inoffensive and neutral, even preferable to imprecise terns like Inuit (the Tlingit are not Inuit).”

Following more recent criticisms by Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Gabby has now officially changed the name to Ó. Tanya tweeted at Eskimeaux, “you are not an Eskimo. I see you are playing Toronto. Maybe I should bring some Eskimos?” She added, “If you want to use the word Eskimo you had better be an Eskimo or I’ll eat you for lunch.” And finally, “I’m tired of being reduced, diminished, dismissed. Our matriarchs are better than this.”

In a statement about the name change, Gabby said, “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.”

Following Gabby’s statement, Tanya gave her own statement, saying “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.”

Here are both in full (via Pitchfork):

Gabby Smith’s statement:

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.

Tanya Tagaq’s statement:

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.

Ó are on tour now with WHY?. Pictures of their recent NYC show at Irving Plaza are in the gallery above.

Ó also play a benefit for the troubled Shea Stadium on April 30 at Baby’s All Right with Big Ups, Chris Gethard, Sharpless, and Ian Sweet (solo) (tickets).

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