McGill Uni­ver­sity to hold ref­er­en­dum on chang­ing team’s Red­men nick­name

The Peterborough Examiner - - Sports - JOHN CHI­D­LEY-HILL

Ross Mon­tour says the time is right for McGill Uni­ver­sity to change its team nick­name.

Mon­tour, a chief on the Mo­hawk Coun­cil of Kah­nawa:ke, says that his First Na­tions com­mu­nity south of Mon­treal would wel­come a move from McGill to stop call­ing its men’s sports teams the Red­men.

He may get his wish by the end of the year, as an on­line pe­ti­tion posted by the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of McGill Uni­ver­sity has gar­nered nearly 10,000 sig­na­tures and led to a ref­er­en­dum among the stu­dent body on the is­sue start­ing Fri­day.

“It’s a good time for that to hap­pen,” said Mon­tour on Wed­nes­day. “I think it’s a healthy sign. The fact that the pe­ti­tion ex­ists and that there are peo­ple will­ing to take it on as an is­sue for them, I couldn’t be hap­pier, re­ally.

“Over time I think peo­ple have changed. Peo­ple are learn­ing to ques­tion: ‘Re­ally, is that OK?’”

McGill’s male teams are called the Red­men while their fe­male teams are the Martlets — an English heraldic bird that re­sem­bles a swift or a house martin.

The Red­men nick­name dates back to the 1920s. Some alumni claim the name’s ori­gin is ei­ther a trib­ute to the team’s red uni­forms or the red hair of Scot founder James McGill and not a pe­jo­ra­tive term to de­scribe In­dige­nous peo­ples.

But there have been such con­nec­tions in the past. Through the 1950s male and fe­male teams were col­lo­qui­ally re­ferred to as the “In­di­ans” or the “Squaws” re­spec­tively. Sev­eral McGill sports teams used a styl­ized logo with an In­dige­nous male wear­ing a head­dress in the 1980s un­til the school stopped us­ing the em­blem in 1992.

“I’ve heard the sort of dis­claimer that it’s only be­cause of the colour of the uni­forms but I think that’s a pretty thin de­fence of the name,” Mon­tour said. “It’s from an­other era, which clearly thought it was OK to do that.”

Af­ter stu­dents vote in the ref­er­en­dum from Fri­day to Mon­day, the stu­dents’ so­ci­ety plans to re­lease pub­lic let­ters of sup­port from off-cam­pus groups be­fore McGill’s provost Christo­pher Man­fredi takes the is­sue be­fore a work­ing group in early De­cem­ber that will then de­cide if the uni­ver­sity should take fur­ther steps to chang­ing the name.

“A de­ci­sion with re­spect to re­nam­ing any­thing within an in­sti­tu­tion whose his­tory is as long as ours is sig­nif­i­cant,” said Man­fredi in an open let­ter posted on Oct. 24. “It must be un­der­taken with dili­gence, open­ness, and sen­si­tiv­ity to the per­spec­tives of all con­cerned. 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.”

To­mas Jirousek, the In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner for the stu­dents’ so­ci­ety, has been the driv­ing force of the on­line pe­ti­tion.

A mem­ber of McGill’s row­ing team, who is from the Kainai Na­tion in south­ern Al­berta, Jirousek is frus­trated by what he be­lieves is the school ad­min­is­tra­tion’s slow bu­reau­cracy.

“In­dige­nous stu­dent ath­letes are hurt­ing right here, right now. In­dige­nous stu­dent ath­letes feel iso­lated within McGill ath­let­ics, and In­dige­nous stu­dents feel iso­lated within McGill more gen­er­ally,” Jirousek said.

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