Indigenous student athlete pushes McGill to axe 'Redmen' nickname
Published Wednesday, October 17, 2018 8:06AM EDT
Students at McGill University will vote next month on whether the school should change the nickname of its sports teams from Redmen.
The vote was sparked by Tomas Jirousek, an Indigenous first-year student and member of the school’s rowing team.
“It hurts to think about all the Indigenous athletes that have been hurt by the Redmen name,” Jirousek told CTV Montreal.
McGill adopted the Redmen name nearly a century ago, as a reference to the red jerseys worn by its athletes.
Over time, though, the name began to be connected to Indigenous people. Jirousek said some of the school’s sports teams wore logos that appropriate Indigenous imagery on their jerseys and helmets for a period of time.
“We’ve had depictions in school yearbooks of Indigenous people being scalped,” he said.
“There is no way to separate the Redmen name and Indigenous identity.”
A university task force recommended in 2016 that the Redmen name be discarded. School officials say they are still studying the issue and have not made any decisions.
“We recognize and regret any harm the unfortunate association of athletic team nicknames to Indigenous cultures during this period may have caused to our Indigenous communities,” Fabrice Labeau, the university’s interim deputy provost of student life and learning, said in a statement.
November’s student vote will not determine whether the Redmen name will be changed – only whether the student body will support Jirousek’s attempts to make it happen.
Students surveyed by CTV Montreal seemed to be in favour of removing the Redmen moniker.
“It does have a negative connotation, so I think if we do change the name it’s only for the better,” said Lisa Boivert.
“The name is extremely racist and there needs to be a change,” added Charline Cole-Lessard. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
Jirousek said he has heard a number of “snide remarks” from other student athletes, which make him feel isolated from his peers.
“Really what’s getting me through this is the hope that no Indigenous student has to deal with this again,” he said.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Tarah Schwartz