MONTREAL — A report on renaming buildings, scholarships and other entities at McGill University to adapt to 21st century concerns has exposed the divisive nature of the debate over the name of the school’s Redmen sports teams.
A day after receiving the report, university provost Christopher Manfredi said Friday the administration will seek further input in the coming weeks before making a final decision on the Redmen next month.
The university working group on “principles of commemoration and renaming” has chronicled some of the damage caused by the name.
In its 21-page report, one unnamed Indigenous student is quoted saying that seeing Redmen jerseys in the gym “felt like a dagger” and that being called a “Redman” made him sick.
Another Indigenous student told the group she didn’t feel accepted in the university, despite her efforts. “I still feel like a ghost, like an erased pencil mark,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t advise family or other Indigenous students to attend the university.
But on the other side are alumni who say a name change would prompt them to forsake their alma mater.
The report quotes a letter expressing such strong attachment to the Redmen name that the unnamed writers vow that if the name were changed, they would never again donate to McGill, they would discourage their children from applying to McGill and they would “consider McGill dead to (them),” and might “actively work against its success.”
The working group’s mandate did not call for a pronouncement on specific names or practices, and its report offers no recommendation on the Redmen.
It says a guiding principle should be whether the harm of keeping a name outweighs the good.
“For example, does the practice or state of affairs have a negative impact on members of the McGill community or on their sense of belonging to McGill? Does it harm McGill’s reputation locally or elsewhere?” the group writes. On the other hand, it must be considered whether a name is “a source of pride, loyalty, connection, and community building among McGillians,” the authors say.
Manfredi said the first application of the principles spelled out in the report will be on “the question of renaming of our men’s varsity teams, the Redmen – a matter that has drawn particular attention in the last several months.”
The Redmen name dates back to the 1920s and has been described as a tribute to the team’s red uniforms. But in the 1950s, men’s and women’s teams came to be referred to as the “Indians” or “Squaws.” Some teams adopted a logo with an Indigenous man wearing a headdress in 1980s, until its use was stopped in 1992.
In a November referendum, 79 per cent of students supported abandoning the Redmen name. The vote followed a campaign by Indigenous staff and students to drop the name they consider derogatory.
Tomas Jirousek, a third-year political science and economics student who has led the charge for a name change, said he was disappointed by some of the alumni comments in the report.
“It does hurt us, as Indigenous students, to know that certain alumni and donors so clearly oppose reconciliation and changing the name, to such a degree that they would actively seek to undermine the institution if it chose to rename the Redmen,” said Jirousek, the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner for the Students’ Society of McGill.
Jirousek, a member of McGill’s rowing team from the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta, said the report leaves McGill with a clear choice.
“I think this frames McGill’s final decision between either choosing to continue to take in funds from a small but vocal group of donors, or to listen to, and respect, the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples,” he said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press