McGill University has dropped the Redmen name for its sports teams.
Principal Suzanne Fortier said in a statement Friday that the Redmen name has caused pain and alienation for Indigenous students at the university.
Even though the name was not initially adopted as a reference to Indigenous peoples, that association was made in the 1950s when men’s and women’s teams came to be nicknamed the “Indians” and “Squaws.” Some teams later adopted a logo with an Indigenous man wearing a headdress.
“Today, ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries,” Fortier said. “While this derogatory meaning of the word does not reflect the beliefs of generations of McGill athletes who have proudly competed wearing the university’s colours, we cannot ignore this contemporary understanding.”
She said the name “is not one the university would choose today, and it is not one that McGill should carry forward.”
The university released a working group report in December that revealed deep divisions between students and alumni who defend the nearly century-old name and those who find it offensive.
One unnamed Indigenous student was quoted saying that seeing Redmen jerseys in the gym “felt like a dagger” and that being called a “Redman” made him sick, while another told the group she didn’t feel accepted in the university and “felt like a ghost.”
On the other side was a group of alumni who reported feeling such strong attachment to the Redmen name that they said they would never again donate to McGill, would discourage their children from applying to the school and would “consider McGill dead to (them),” if the name were dropped.
“I have learned about the true depths of the pain caused by the Redmen name,” Fortier said. “I have heard from Indigenous students at McGill who feel alienated by the name. They feel disrespected and unconsidered. They feel conflicted over their rightful pride in being Indigenous people, and their pride in being McGill students.”
She said a committee will be formed to choose a new name in time for the 2020-21 season. For 2019-20, the men’s varsity teams will be known simply as the McGill teams, she said. The women’s teams are called the Martlets.
The Redmen name, originally written as Red Men, dates back to the 1920s. The school has said it was a tribute to the team’s red uniforms and possibly a nod to university founder James McGill’s Celtic origins.
The Canadian Press