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The city of Montreal is no stranger to social justice, especially on campus. Having lived in the city for close to three years now, I have learned to keep quiet in just about any conversation that has to do with politics or culture, especially around students.
So today, when I heard that McGill, Canada’s top university, was going to drop their team name because of perceived racism, it came as no shocker.
A few months ago, a petition appeared that quickly garnered over 1,500 signatures demanding a name change. The petition site along with and a press released by the campaign read:
In 2016 a Task Force created by McGill itself on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education found there were “past usages of the name ‘Indians’ to refer to men’s teams, and ‘Squaws’ or ‘Super Squaws’ to refer to women’s athletics teams, as well as phrases such as ‘Indians on the warpath’ and ‘Redman scalped’ that appeared in McGill media”.
Even after an official report of said behavior, McGill continues to use the Redmen name, being fully aware of its connotations, historical outrageous, offensive use, and incredibly negative sociological and emotional effects on Indigenous students.
It is time for McGill to take action.
We must address the legitimate historic reality of the Redmen name when McGill won’t.
We must stop this detrimental and harmful to the experiences of Indigenous students at McGill name.
Even to my non-SJW self, I sort of understood the point that they were getting at. Native American sports imagery is not uncommon, with there still being a large number of American sports teams that keep it in use. Teams including: The Kansas City Chiefs, The Atlanta Braves, The Chicago Blackhawks, The Florida Seminoles, and the particularly “nasty” Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.
With the Redmen name being more susceptible to outrage and more easily changeable than multi-billion dollar franchises, it seemed like an easy target for social justice types to take down.
But of course, just like with all things nowadays, the petition seemed to be an outcry with questionable roots. What seemed like clear-cut racism, actually had a more complicated history.
Like the New Zealand All Blacks, Cleveland Browns, or the Cincinnati Reds, McGill claims that the name comes not from any racist inclination, but from the colour that the team wore. Originally called the Red Men, the name was shortened to one word and eventually stuck.
The name’s origins come from the red colour of a Scottish flannel, as the founder of the university, James McGill, was a Scotsman himself.
Sadly, the name was jumped upon by pun-hungry journalists over the decades, with headlines such as “Redmen Scalped” among other common tropes, helping connect the once innocent name to its unfortunate “racist” namesake.
Usages of the name “Indians” to refer to men’s teams began as early as 1938, and in the mid-’60s, women’s teams began being referred to as the “Squaws” or “Super Squaws.” There was also a logo of a native chief used for around a decade that was removed in 1992. For the last 26 years, the name Redmen has gone back to its roots as a colour inspired name.
But capitulation is the only way, nowadays! Context doesn’t matter! Facts don’t matter! Only feelings matter! And so McGill, Canada’s Harvard, has announced that there will indeed be a name change.
According to the CBC, Suzanne Fortier, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill, announced the decision via an email to students Friday morning, saying that it was based on new principles of commemoration and renaming that the university established in December.
So that’s that. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. No one actually has an attachment to the Redmen name, right? But it’s still a sad reflection of the times we live in.
No one seems to care that studies seem to show that Native communities don’t actually care all too much about Indigenous sports names. Pitchforks and torches are all the rage nowadays, and these names will be attacked for years to come.
You know, it just seems funny to me. Montreal recently added a tree to the middle of its flag to honour Indigenous communities in the area, and McGill has now changed the name of their sports team. Yet, every time I walk downtown and see dozens of homeless First Nations people, or when I read about the Prime Minister mocking First Nations activists protesting mercury poisoning on reserves, gestures like this seem particularly empty.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.