Let­ter for the Ad­min­is­tra­tion to Change the Var­sity Teams’ Name

The McGill Daily - - Contents -

Dear Prin­ci­pal Suzanne Fortier, Provost Christo­pher Man­fredi, In­terim Deputy Provost (Stu­dent Life & Learn­ing) Fabrice Labeau, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of Athletics and Re­cre­ation Marc Géli­nas,

My name is To­mas Jirousek, and I am a mem­ber of the Kainai Na­tion, a na­tion of the Black­foot Con­fed­er­acy, and a Mcgill var­sity ath­lete. I, with the sup­port of the un­der­signed, am writ­ing this let­ter to call for the im­me­di­ate re­nam­ing of the Mcgill Red­men.

With this let­ter, I wish to ex­press con­cerns over the con­tin­ued us­age of such an of­fen­sive name for the mens’ var­sity teams. In­dige­nous stu­dents, staff, and com­mu­nity mem­bers for years have clearly con­veyed the de­sire to change the Red­men name. This was re­it­er­ated most re­cently in the Provost’s Task Force on In­dige­nous Stud­ies and In­dige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion, which was part of Mcgill’s re­ac­tion to the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion re­leased in 2015.

As noted in Call to Ac­tion 21, the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity has openly ques­tioned “the cred­i­bil­ity of the Univer­sity’s ef­forts in re­la­tion to Indi­gene­ity given the pe­jo­ra­tive con­no­ta­tion of our mens’ var­sity team name.” It is im­pos­si­ble for the Univer­sity to po­si­tion it­self as a leader in af­firm­ing the Calls to Ac­tion in the TRC, while also con­tin­u­ing to brand it­self un­der the Red­men name. By re­main­ing silent, the Univer­sity con­tin­ues to con­done and per­pet­u­ate the psy­cho­log­i­cally and so­cially dam­ag­ing ef­fects the Red­men name in­flicts on In­dige­nous stu­dents and ath­letes like my­self and oth­ers on this cam­pus.

The Provost’s Task Force notes the past use of the name “In­di­ans” to re­fer to Mcgill’s mens’ teams, and “Squaws” or “Su­per Squaws” to re­fer to its womens’ athletics teams, as well as the ap­pear­ance of phrases such as “In­di­ans on a Warpath” and “Red­man Scalped” in Mcgill me­dia.

Stereo­typed im­ages of In­dige­nous per­sons were used on Mcgill jer­seys and hel­mets un­til a 1992 de­ci­sion of the Mcgill Athletics Board ended the us­age of the of­fen­sive logo. But in a de­ci­sion that white­washed and ac­tively sought to re­write the racist and vi­o­lent his­tory of the Red­men, they chose to not change the name.

For­mer Mcgill pro­fes­sor of his­tory, Al­lan Downey, writes “whether the ‘In­dian’ por­tray­als are ‘pos­i­tive’ or ‘neg­a­tive,’ they have ad­verse psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences for In­dige­nous youth and for re­la­tions be­tween In­dige­nous and non-in­dige­nous peo­ple.” Pro­fes­sor Downey of­fers that the “in­di­vid­ual recla­ma­tion [does not] negate the larger so­ci­etal im­pact that these im­ages had. The in­tent [does not] negate the ef­fects.” I, and many oth­ers, ar­gue that an ‘en­dorse­ment’ by any sin­gu­lar In­dige­nous in­di­vid­ual, group, or team, does not negate the larger so­ci­etal ef­fects that the Red­men name con­tin­ues to re­pro­duce for In­dige­nous ath­letes, stu­dents, and com­mu­nity mem­bers. The Univer­sity’s to­k­eniza­tion of In­dige­nous peo­ple and ini­tia­tives to “Indi­g­e­nize” in order to de­fend the con­tin­ued us­age of the Red­men name is morally rep­re­hen­si­ble at best.

Through use of the Red­men name Mcgill con­tin­ues to pro­mote stereo­typ­i­cal and hy­per- mas­cu­line de­pic­tion of In­dige­nous peo­ples. This has ac­tively con­trib­uted to a Univer­sity that his­tor­i­cally has been, and of­ten con­tin­ues to be, hos­tile to the pres­ence of In­dige­nous stu­dents. The us­age of the In­dian, Squaw, and Red­men names have con­trib­uted to feel­ings of anx­i­ety, dis­com­fort, and iso­la­tion amongst In­dige­nous peo­ples at Mcgill for many years. It has also led to the in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized ig­no­rance of the lived re­al­ity of In­dige­nous peo­ples at Mcgill. No in­di­vid­ual, or even team, ‘ re­claim­ing’ the name can undo both the his­toric and on­go­ing dam­ages in­flicted by the Red­men name.

Com­pet­ing for Mcgill as an In­dige­nous var­sity ath­lete has been one of the most dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. In ad­di­tion to hav­ing to strug­gle with the added ev­ery­day stress that we stu­dent ath­letes all go through, I have to con­stantly deal with the in­ter­nal strug­gle be­tween com­pet­ing for a team I love, and my own dis­gust at the con­tin­ued us­age of the Red­men name. I have faced in­creased iso­la­tion since start­ing a call to change the name, and speak­ing out in sup­port and in­clu­sion of In­dige­nous peo­ple com­pet­ing at Mcgill. I did not choose to go to Mcgill to be de­graded in such a man­ner.

I choose to com­pete for the Mcgill that my team rep­re­sents. My team­mates and coaches have never failed to sup­port my in­clu­sion as a var­sity rower. I have been made to feel sup­ported and val­ued in my work to­wards a more in­clu­sive Mcgill.

That is the rea­son why I call on Mcgill to change the name. I know that athletics can play an in­cred­i­bly pos­i­tive role in a stu­dent’s ex­pe­ri­ence at Mcgill, and every In­dige­nous stu­dent should have ac­cess to that same sup­port. Every In­dige­nous stu­dent should be made to feel in­cluded, wel­come, and sup­ported at Mcgill, and chang­ing the Red­men name en­sures that more In­dige­nous stu­dents will ben­e­fit from the same ex­pe­ri­ence I have had on the row­ing team.

# Changeth­ename. It’s the only re­spect­ful and ap­pro­pri­ate course of ac­tion.

Signed,

To­mas Jirousek, SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner, In­dige­nous Var­sity Ath­lete

With the sup­port of Car­lee Loft, SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner, 2017-18 Chris­tian Queq­uish, SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner, 2016-17 Les­lie Anne St. Amour, SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner, 2015-16

In ad­di­tion to SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mit­tee In­dige­nous Stu­dents Al­liance

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