McGill to make decision on Redmen name by end of academic term

Suzanne Fortier, the school's principal and vice-chancellor, says she needs to 'give this important question the time and space that it clearly deserves.'

Principal says she needs to 'give this important question the time and space that it clearly deserves'

Dozens of students gathered outside of McGill University's James Administration Building to protest the men's varsity Redmen name in October. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

McGill University in Montreal will decide whether or not to change the name of its Redmen men's varsity teams by the end of this academic term.

Suzanne Fortier, the school's principal and vice-chancellor, will be the one making the decision based on the university's new principles on commemoration and renaming, following calls to change the name from students and Indigenous members of McGill's community.

"Everyone in our community is understandably eager for a decision regarding the Redmen name," wrote Fortier in a notice published on the university's website Wednesday.

Fortier said she has received a high volume of messages from within and beyond McGill's community expressing opinions on the name since the university's Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming issued its final report in December.

"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," wrote Fortier.

A logo with a headdress appeared on the football and hockey teams uniforms during the 1980s. (McGill University)

In making her decision, she said she will also seek advice from students, staff and faculty, as well Indigenous members of the McGill community, student athletes and alumni.

"It is essential that I, and all of us as a community, give this important question the time and space that it clearly deserves."

An online form is also available for those who would like to share their opinions with McGill on the issue.

Decision not being made soon enough for some students

Since the late 1920s, McGill's men's varsity teams have been known as the Redmen. The name is said to stem from colours worn by the team.

Indigenous symbols, connotations, and unofficial nicknames were propagated by the media and fans in many circumstances since.

A small group of students and faculty held a protest on campus Thursday in response to Fortier's announcement. 

For Tomas Jirousek, the length of time being taken to make the decision is disappointing.

"I can respect the need to have a adequate process of consultation on changing the name. But I think we've demonstrated as a community here at the university [we] want to change the name," he said.

Tomas Jirousek is from the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta and has been a varsity athlete on McGill’s rowing team for three years. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Jirousek, a member of the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, is a third-year political science student on the men's varsity rowing team. He spearheaded the campaign in the fall to change the name, which included an on-campus demonstration in October and an online petition that garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

McGill's undergraduate student union also held a non-binding referendum that collected 5,856 votes, with 78.8 per cent in favour of the change.

Stationed outside the James Administration building, from 12 to 12:30, a group of students and faculty held up signs in a symbolic gesture to hold the university accountable to the process of changing the Redmen name. (CBC)

"The decision to delay the process on the decision on changing the name fails to take into account the need for expediency on the issue," said Jirousek.

"At this very moment, Indigenous students still feel ostracized on this campus because of the Redmen name and delaying the decision continues to drag out this process of pain for a lot of these students."

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About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.