It’s time to change the offensive name, says Indigenous athlete.
McGill University students protested in front of the school’s administrative building last Wednesday to demand the change of the Redmen name as it could be offensive towards Indigenous people.
“Indigenous students are still getting hurt, right now, year after year, while the university continues to delay their decision on the Redmen name,” said Tomas Jirousek, a third-year Indigenous varsity athlete on the men’s rowing team at McGill, from the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta.
Jirousek organized the demonstration at McGill. His campaign has attracted a lot of support on social media, with 2,800 people marked as interested or going on the Facebook event. More than 9,000 people have signed his petition.
This is not the first time McGill’s sports teams have received criticism for having a name associated with Indigenous people. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Indigenous Affairs is leading a campaign to change the name for good.
“If you look at the historical legacy of the Redmen name, you see that the university recalled the McGill Squaws and the McGill Indians,” said Jirousek. “Those are the most derogatory terms to address Indigenous people.”
The men’s sports teams at McGill have been called the Redmen since the end of the 1920s. According to the McGill Athletics website, the name was a reference to the colour of the teams’s uniforms. However, in 1980, the Redmen began using a picture of an Indigenous man as its logo. It was discontinued in 1992, but the name remained the same. In a McGill Athletics press release from 1992, Richard W. Pound, then chair of the Athletics Board, said: “We believe that the Redmen name and logo are quite separate issues.”
The issue emerged again in 2016 as a Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education discovered the past connotations of the name.
“The Task Force notes past usages of the name ‘Indians’ to refer to men’s teams, and ‘Squaws’ or ‘Super Squaws’ to refer to women’s athletics teams, as well as phrases such as ‘Indians on a Warpath’ and ‘Redman Scalpe’ that appeared in McGill media,” said the SSMU Indigenous Affairs in an open letter to the officials of McGill University.
McGill athletes were told to not comment on the issue. Julie Audette, the communications manager at McGill Athletics, redirected media advances to McGill’s media relations. A McGill spokesperson did not respond to The Concordian’s request for comment. However, on Oct. 24, McGill’s Provost and Vice-Principal, Christopher Manfredi, addressed the controversy in a written statement.
“In this particular instance, any decision about the Redmen name must emerge from a process that engages all relevant stakeholders in conversation, drawing us together while building on a sense of shared community and dedication to McGill University,” Manfredi wrote.
The issue has also spread outside of McGill University’s campus.
“I think it all comes down to this lack of listening and genuine consultation with Indigenous people and obtaining consent,” said Louellyn White, First People studies teacher at Concordia University.
“It’s only a name,” said Bhashan de Beaulieu, a Quebecois and Abenaki man that lived some years in the Kispiox Indian Reserve in British Columbia. “It’s not negative. For [Indigenous people], the colour of the skin never had any importance. For them, we are all brothers. Any Native that you could meet will tell you the same thing,” said de Beaulieu.
More than a thousand McGill students have signed SSMU’s open letter to change the name. McGill students will be able to vote on the name change between Nov. 9 and Nov. 12. The SSMU Indigenous Affairs is hosting a conference about “Origins, Interpretations & Impacts-Indigeneity & Sporting Imagery” at McGill this Thursday.
“It doesn’t really matter what the next name will be. It only matters that it is nothing racialized [or a] depiction of another culture,” said Jirousek.
Photos by Esteban Cuevas.