Montreal’s McGill University has announced it will change the name of its men’s varsity sports teams — the Redmen — after calls from Indigenous students, faculty and staff saying the name is discriminatory.
Suzanne Fortier, the principal and vice-xhancellor of McGill, announced the decision by email to students Friday morning, saying that it was based on new principles of commemoration and renaming that the university established in December 2018.
“Today, ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries,” said Fortier in a statement.
She said the derogatory meaning does not reflect the beliefs of generations of McGill athletes.
“We cannot ignore this contemporary understanding. Intention, however benign, does not negate prejudicial effect,” she said.
“Inclusion and respect are at the core of our university’s principles and values; pejoratives run contrary to who we are as a community.”
She said that a steering committee would be set up to determine a new name for the teams through consultation.
Name dates back to 1920s
Since the late 1920s, the men’s teams have been known as the Redmen. According to the university, the name stemmed from colours worn by the team. However, Indigenous symbols, connotations, and unofficial nicknames were propagated by the press and fans.
Usages of the name “Indians” to refer to men’s teams began as early as 1938, and in the mid-1960s, women’s teams began being referred to as the “Squaws” or “Super Squaws.”
Images of Indigenous people were also found on McGill jerseys and helmets for the football and men’s hockey teams between 1981 and 1991.
Campaign to change the name
The university’s task force on Indigenous studies and Indigenous education released a report in 2017 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action.
The task force issued their own recommendations, including one to change the varsity teams’ name within one or two years of the report.
Tomas Jirousek, a third-year political science student on the men’s varsity rowing team and member of the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, has been campaigning for the name change for over a year.
In October, he helped organize an on-campus demonstration and online petition that garnered more than 10,000 signatures in support of the name change.