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Canada McGill delays decision on changing contentious Redmen team name

Posters are seen outside the McGill University athletic centre, in Montreal, on Nov. 13, 2018.

Dario Ayala

Montreal’s McGill University said Wednesday that it needs more time to decide what to do about its sports teams’ contentious Redmen name.

Principal Suzanne Fortier said in a statement that she’s postponing a final decision due to a high volume of messages expressing “different and indeed opposite” opinions on whether the name should be dropped.

“Everyone in our community is understandably eager for a decision regarding the Redmen name,” she wrote in a message to the school community.

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“I believe, though, that it is important for me to read, understand and reflect upon all the comments and points of view that have been expressed, and give them the level of consideration and respect with which they were shared.”

After originally promising an answer in January, Fortier now says she will announce a final decision on whether to change the name by the end of the semester.

The university released a working group report in December that revealed deep divisions between students and alumni who defend the nearly century-old name and those who feel it is derogatory to Indigenous students.

One unnamed Indigenous student was quoted saying that seeing Redmen jerseys in the gym “felt like a dagger” and that being called a “Redman” made him sick, while another told the group she didn’t feel accepted in the university and “felt like a ghost,” despite her efforts.

But on the other side was a group of alumni who reported feeling such strong attachment to the Redmen name that they said they would never again donate to McGill, would discourage their children from applying to the school and would “consider McGill dead to (them),” if the name were dropped.

The Redmen name dates back to the 1920s and has been described as a tribute to the teams’ red uniforms. But in the 1950s, men’s and women’s teams came to be nicknamed the “Indians” and “Squaws,” and some teams later adopted a logo with an Indigenous man wearing a headdress in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Tomas Jirousek, a political science and economics student and varsity rower who has campaigned for a name change, said there is a pressing need for a change.

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“There are Indigenous students right now in athletics who feel ostracized, who feel isolated within varsity teams because of the Redmen name,” he said in a phone interview.

“So while I appreciate the fact that the university is taking the adequate time to do consultations on changing the name, it needs to take into consideration the fact that students are still hurting.”

He pointed out that 79 per cent of students voted to abandon the Redmen name in a November referendum following a campaign led by Indigenous staff and students – proof that the current student body has spoken clearly in favour of a change, he said.

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