The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council overwhelmingly passed the Motion Regarding Renaming of McGill’s Men’s Varsity Teams at their Oct. 11 session, approving the question ‘Do you endorse the immediate renaming of the ‘Redmen’ name and mandate the SSMU to work toward immediate renaming of the Varsity Men’s Team?’ for the Fall 2018 referendum period. This motion follows the 2015 final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which, among other recommendations, calls for increased support for indigenous students from post-secondary institutions and anti-racism awareness in sports. High schools in Arnprior, Saskatoon, Saint Catherine’s, and the Greater Toronto Area, among other institutions, have already changed their team names.
The TRC’s final report led to the formation of the McGill Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education, which called for consultation on the renaming of university teams, buildings, and scholarships. McGill’s Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming released their draft report in August and continues to engage in community consultations in preparation for the release of their final report on Dec. 6. Ultimately, the decision to rename McGill’s varsity teams rests on the Board of Governors (BoG).
SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek, member of the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta and varsity rowing team athlete, has been vocal about the need to change the name of the varsity teams. In addition to starting a Change.org petition and writing an open letter to the McGill administration, Jirousek will lead a demonstration against the continued use of the name on Oct. 31. For him, the name is associated with prejudice against the indigenous community, and its continued usage is harmful.
“There is a painful history of colonialism in the history,” Jirousek said. “When thinking of the name, stereotypical images come to mind. We have been known as the McGill Squaws and Indians in the past. There [have] been stereotypical representations on helmets and jerseys in the past, representative of a hurtful connection between indigenous people and the University.”
For other McGill athletes, and according to Montreal Gazette columnist Martin Patriquin, the name Redmen is associated with the school colours. Varsity soccer player Médéric Gervais does not believe the name is related to negative stereotypes and so should not be changed.
“Without outside influence, I would not think that the ‘Redmen’ name means anything racial,” Gervais said. “Université Laval’s team is named the ‘Rouge et Or’ [red and gold], and with that logic it would make sense for us to be named the Redmen. The team is named after its colours and should therefore keep its name.”
Robert Hu, First Year Council representative for SSMU Council, voted against the Oct. 11 motion, although not out of disagreement about whether the name should be changed. Hu argued that the motion is only prefixed with evidence of the racist connotations of the name’s origins, problematically presenting only one side of the debate.
“I would like to say that I, personally, do not really like the name either,” Hu said. “The reason I voted against the motion is […] because the motion was one sided. There should just be the questions ‘yes or no’– let the rest of the debate decide the outcome.”
Hu believes that voters should consider the different voices and perspectives in the debate before casting their votes.
“Before such a decision is taken, you have to consider if it is inherently used to oppress indigenous people, or [if it is] a misunderstanding,” Hu said. “[The name] affects the whole McGill community. Because the varsity players are ambassadors to McGill, everyone should have a say in it. It has huge implications.”
A demonstration against the continued use of the Redmen name will take place outside the James Administration building on Oct. 31 at 2:00 p.m.