Pressure is growing on McGill University to shed its sports teams’ Redmen nickname after students voted overwhelmingly in favour of the change in a referendum.
In a statement announcing results of the vote Monday night, the Students’ Society of McGill University said it will continue pressing the university until it “acknowledges the damage that the Redmen name has done, and addresses those damages by, first of all, changing it.”
The vote followed a campaign by Indigenous staff and students to drop a name they consider derogatory. They gained the support of 79 per cent of students who cast ballots.
“I think it should change completely. I think that the history and the repercussions are more important than ‘it’s always been the McGill sports team name,'” said Natasha Guerriero, a student.
“I don think that really matters. “
The Redmen name, originally written as Red Men, dates back to the 1920s. The school says it is a tribute to the team’s red uniforms and possibly a nod to university founder James McGill’s Celtic origins.
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“In ancient times, Celts were known as the Red Men because of their hair … our own Red Men were no doubt Celts in honour of James McGill’s Scottish descent,” McGill’s official historian, the late Stanley Frost, is quoted stating on the McGill Athletics web site.
But in the 1950s, the name took on a different sense, with men’s and women’s teams colloquially referred to as the “Indians” or the “Squaws.” In the 1980s, several McGill teams used a stylized logo with an Indigenous man wearing a headdress.
Tomas Jirousek, the student society’s Indigenous affairs commissioner and a member of McGill’s varsity rowing team, explained before the referendum why the Redmen name is hurtful.
“Indigenous student athletes feel isolated within McGill athletics, and Indigenous students feel isolated within McGill more generally,” he said.
Students’ society executive members said that keeping the name would amount to “oppressive and racist behaviour,” and they congratulated the student body for showing leadership.
“Today, SSMU members stood behind Indigenous students on campus who have called on McGill to address their feelings of anxiety, discomfort, and isolation on campus,” the executive said in a statement.
“Today, we as a student body, stood for the values of respect and inclusivity on campus.”
Twenty-eight per cent of eligible students voted in the non-binding referendum. The final tally was 4,616 in favour of changing the name and 1,240 against.
“Maybe it preserved a type of historical significance associated with the name, but maybe it’s time to change and step into a new age respect and acknowledging the past,” suggested student Phoebe Phua.
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A response from the administration was not immediately available.
In an Oct. 24 message to the McGill community, provost Christopher Manfredi acknowledged the feelings of those who consider the name pejorative as well as those who feel pride in past Redmen achievements.
“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 said.
He said a working group on commemoration and renaming will address the issue of the Redmen name in its final report, to be submitted next month. The university will rely on the report to guide its decision, he said.