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.
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.