McGill University in Montreal announced Friday that it would drop the mascot “Redmen” for its men’s sports teams, capping a contentious discussion over the athletic identity of one of Canada’s oldest colleges.
McGill first adopted the name “Red Men,” used as two words, in 1927 to reference the team’s uniform color, according to the school’s student newspaper, the McGill Daily, which referenced the athletic department’s media guide. It also alluded to the red hair of ancient Celts to honor the Scottish heritage of founder James McGill.
Newspapers writing about the teams in later years began calling the team “Redmen,” evoking imagery of indigenous people to describe the team’s mascot. Eventually the school’s teams began using depictions of aboriginal people on uniforms and helmets, which continued until 1992, when the athletic department banned those logos, according to a 2017 report from the provost’s office.
“Neither language, nor perceptions of language, are fixed; they change as the world changes,” Suzanne Fortier, the university principal and vice chancellor, wrote in a letter to the campus Friday. “McGill did not adopt the Redmen name as a reference to North American indigenous peoples. However, the name has been associated with indigenous peoples at different points in our history. Today, ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries.”
Men’s sports teams will go by the mascot “Team” until a university steering committee selects a new name before the 2020-21 season, Fortier wrote in the letter.
The McGill women’s teams have been called the Martlets, a sparrow-like mythical bird that cannot land because it does not have feet, since 1976. The bird is found on the school’s coat of arms. Before that, women’s teams were called the “Squaws” or the “Super Squaws” as a derivative of the “Redmen” moniker.
“Intention, however benign, does not negate prejudicial effect. Inclusion and respect are at the core of our university’s principles and values; pejoratives run contrary to who we are as a community,” Fortier wrote. “For these reasons, the Redmen name is not one that our community would choose today, and it is not one that McGill should carry forward into our third century.”
A member of the school’s rowing team who is from the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta has demonstrated for a name change since last year. He began an online petition in October that gathered more than 10,000 signatures, according to CBC.
McGill is the latest North American school to move away from the “Redmen” nickname or other indigenous mascots. St. John’s University and the University of Massachusetts called themselves the Redmen before changing names to the Red Storm and Minutemen in 1994 and 1972, respectively.
The Cleveland Indians last year said they would no longer use the “Chief Wahoo” logo of a Native American man wearing a feather headdress.
The Washington Redskins have resisted such a change. Team owner Daniel Snyder has insisted the mascot, which is defined by both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary as a “usually offensive” or “dated” and “offensive” term for an American Indian, is to honor native peoples’ heritage.
“We’ll never change the name,” he said in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
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