Canadian angers New Zealanders with candy complaint
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 23, 2009 8:28AM EDT
An Inuk woman from Canada is making headlines and enemies in New Zealand for suggesting popular marshmallow candies called "Eskimos" are derogatory and racist.
Many Kiwis are outraged over comments by Seeka Veevee Parsons and are demanding the 21-year-old tourist go home if she's offended by their sweet treats.
"I'm just blown away by all this attention," Veevee Parsons said on the phone from the North Island city of Rotorua.
"But I'm happy because I believe it's a step forward for the people of all the world to recognize the Inuit people as a nation ... we're not just living in igloos anymore."
Veevee Parsons, born in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and raised in Glovertown, N.L., landed in New Zealand in February for a four-month trek.
Three weeks ago, she walked into a convenience store and was shocked to find a packages of sweets plastered with a smiling face peaking out of a fur-trimmed parka beside an igloo. Inside the bag, colourful marshmallows are shaped like people bundled up for winter.
"I think the term 'Eskimo' can almost be related to the term 'savage' or 'Indian' or maybe even the 'n-word' for African-American people," said Veevee Parsons.
"As a kid, I used to be teased by that name. They used to call me a dirty Eskimo girl."
She said the word was originally an insult meaning "eater of raw flesh." Use of the term in Canada was replaced by "Inuk" and "Inuit" in the 1970s, although it is still common to use Eskimo in Alaska.
Veevee Parsons said she mentioned her distaste for the candies when she met a television reporter a few days ago and, since then, she has been interviewed by media from across the country.
Phone calls into one New Zealand radio show that picked up the story were harsh and overwhelmingly in support of keeping the Eskimos treat the way it is, said Veevee Parsons.
"All these people in New Zealand are like, 'Go back home to Canada. If you have something bad to say about New Zealand, we don't want you here,"' she said.
"I'm like, 'You're serious? You're going to support a little figure of a candy rather than somebody's human rights?"'
Hundreds of comments have also poured into online news sites in the island nation.
"Will the Inuit stop clubbing fur seals to death? We don't come to your country and tell you how to live," one man wrote on the 3News television website.
"What's wrong with calling people Eskimos? Or should I say `Snow Dwelling Indigenous Persons in Dire Need of a Lighter?"' quipped another man.
The Cadbury Pascall company has defended what it calls one of its most sought-after products.
"Last year we produced 19 million individual Eskimos," spokesman Daniel Ellis told the Taranaki Daily News. "We have no intention to rename, reshape or remove the product."
Veevee Parsons said her protest led to the discovery of what she calls another offensive treat, the Eskimo Pie ice-cream sandwich. She plans to complain to the Tip Top company that produces it in New Zealand. Nestle also distributes its Eskimo Pie products around the globe.
She's also preparing to send packages of Eskimos candy to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak to bring their attention to them.
One online news writer mused the debate could spark a nasty international feud.
"Fancy New Zealand ending up breaking off relations with Canada because of a single lolly!"
Despite the backlash, Veevee Parsons is receiving some support from people in New Zealand and just finished an interview with a Maori television show. She said the historic plights and stereotypes of both indigenous groups are similar.
When she arrives back in Canada in June, Veevee Parsons said she may continue her fight. Not an avid sports fan, she recently heard the Canadian Football League has a team called the Edmonton Eskimos.
The club, which took its name in 1910, has received a few complaints in recent decades. In 1999, when an insulted Inuk man demanded the name be changed, the team said it would continue to stand by its legendary trademark just like other North American sports teams such as the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians have.
Veevee Parsons said her Inuit relatives support the battle she's waging in New Zealand. But they hope her fight won't interfere with football.
"They're like, 'Oh, stay away from the Edmonton Eskimos. Don't bring up anything about that,' because they're my grandfather's favourite football team."