McGill’s Redmen bear name of school colour

We ap­plaud in­clu­sion moves, but name change would be a mis­di­rected ges­ture, say J.M. Nel­son and R.J. Rusk.

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION - J.M. Nel­son and R.J. Rusk are the pres­i­dents of Friends of McGill Hockey, McGill Bas­ket­ball, re­spec­tively. This ar­ti­cle is also co-signed by S.V. Brahimi, co-founder, Friends of McGill Soc­cer and W.D. McRae, pres­i­dent, Friends of McGill Foot­ball.

As McGill alumni, we share the com­mit­ment of the Work­ing Group on Prin­ci­ples of Com­mem­o­ra­tion and Re­nam­ing to en­sure that our cam­pus is more in­clu­sive and wel­com­ing to Indige­nous peo­ple. We ap­plaud McGill Univer­sity’s re­cent ini­tia­tives like the launch of the col­lege pro­gram in Kah­nawake and on­go­ing ef­forts to boost re­cruit­ment of Indige­nous fac­ulty and stu­dents.

As stu­dent-ath­letes, we proudly wore the red colours of McGill and were proud to rep­re­sent McGill as its Redmen. There is a long and cher­ished his­tory to this name, and we are con­vinced it should re­main.

Stan­ley Frost, McGill’s em­i­nent his­to­rian, wrote that the term “Redmen” was first used by jour­nal­ists in the 1920s and re­ferred to the red school colours and red jer­seys worn by McGill teams. He also wrote that “In an­cient times Celts were known as the Red Men be­cause of their hair, still of­ten ob­served among High­lander Scots. Our own Red Men were no doubt Celts in hon­our of James McGill’s Scots’ de­scent.”

Dur­ing McGill’s 140-year his­tory of In­ter-col­le­giate sport teams, the name McGill has been pre­dom­i­nant, and so has the colour red. The of­fi­cial McGill uni­forms of as many as 48 teams were red, had the McGill crest, the let­ter “M” or the name “McGill” em­bla­zoned on them.

Ad­mit­tedly, the Redmen name was at cer­tain times er­ro­neously given Indige­nous con­no­ta­tions. That hap­pened, notably, in the 1950s and ’60s for ju­nior var­sity teams in hockey and foot­ball; then in the late ’60s to the early ’70s in women’s hockey and bas­ket­ball; in the mid-’80s, there was a styl­ized head­dress logo on foot­ball hel­mets and a shoul­der patch on hockey jer­seys un­til ’91 or ’92; and there were spo­radic mar­ket­ing pro­grams.

More than a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, in 1992, the McGill Ath­let­ics Board de­cided to re­view and con­sider the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of any im­plied as­so­ci­a­tion with Indige­nous peo­ples. It first con­firmed that the name Redmen was de­rived from and re­ferred to the red colour of the uni­forms. As for the logo, it was de­ter­mined that it sup­ported a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the name. The Ath­let­ics Board cor­rected the er­ror and re­moved any Indige­nous con­no­ta­tion that might be as­so­ci­ated with the name by re­frain­ing from all Indige­nous ref­er­ences and re­mov­ing the lo­gos from the two uni­forms and any writ­ten ma­te­ri­als. The Ath­let­ics Board acted with the full ap­proval of McGill’s lead­er­ship to en­sure that it ad­hered to the orig­i­nal mean­ing of the team name.

The name Redmen was re­tained be­cause its his­tor­i­cal roots were the colour red of McGill and had nei­ther as­so­ci­a­tion with, nor ref­er­ence to, Indige­nous peo­ple.

While McGill dis­as­so­ci­ated the name from any Indige­nous con­no­ta­tion long ago, it may be sur­pris­ing to some peo­ple that there are many ex­am­ples of Indige­nous names and im­agery used by sports teams from Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties (Six Na­tions Black­hawks, hockey, Mo­hawk com­mu­nity Oh­sweken; Corn­wall Is­land Redmen, box lacrosse, Mo­hawk com­mu­nity Ak­we­sasne; Caugh­nawaga In­di­ans, box lacrosse, Mo­hawk com­mu­nity Kah­nawake; Mash­teuiatsh Redmen, hockey, First Na­tions Mon­tag­nais, Lac St-Jean Innu com­mu­nity Mash­teuiatsh, etc.).

In McGill’s case, chang­ing the Redmen name would be a mis­di­rected sym­bolic ges­ture, do­ing the wrong thing for the wrong rea­son. Rather, let’s em­brace and pro­mote our his­tory.

Our chal­lenge to­day is to look to to­mor­row, while not for­get­ting the past. Our ef­forts must be di­rected to­ward how we will shape the fu­ture to­gether and how McGill can play its part in en­cour­ag­ing a so­ci­ety that is rea­son­able and re­flects our com­mon val­ues. McGill must con­tinue to en­hance its di­ver­sity and in­clu­sive­ness.

Let’s fo­cus on and pro­ceed with sub­stan­tive ini­tia­tives — such as the McGill Kah­nawake cam­pus, ed­u­ca­tion part­ner­ships with the Cree School Board and the Ka­tivik School Board, and other mea­sur­able goals. All this from the his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate per­spec­tive.

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