A demonstration calling for the change of the “R*dmen” name, which currently designates all McGill men’s varsity teams, will be held at Milton Gates on October 31 at 2 p.m. This protest, organized by SSMU Indigenous Affairs, follows a broader movement on campus led by Kainai Nation and Blackfoot Confederacy member Tomas Jirousek. He is the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner and a student athlete on the varsity rowing team. He explained to The McGill Daily that the “Change the Name” campaign will “serve as an opportunity for Indigenous students and our allies to express our desire to change the R*dmen name on the basis of its offensive and pejorative connotation.”
Since the 1920s, the men’s varsity teams’ name has been the R*dmen. The McGill athletics website hosts a page dedicated to the “Origins of the R*dmen name,” which states that the name allegedly refers to “Celts [and their red hair] in honour of James McGill’s Scots’ descent.” Additionally, an article published by The Montreal Gazette claimed that R*dmen came about as a reference to the university’s dominant colour – “red helmets, red sweaters and red trousers, […] R*dmen is a nod to school, not skin, colour. If the McGill R*dmen are guilty of anything, it’s only by association.” The arguments above show a clear disinterest in the harm that this name has caused, and continues to cause, Indigenous students.
In 1947, McGill varsity teams adopted “a new logo for the team that incorrectly associated a native connotation to the name,” as the McGill Athletics page insists. This was worsened in 1982, when a “newer stylized native logo was adopted depicting a native person wearing a headdress.” This logo was only removed from the varsity teams’ helmet in 1992 following outcry. The McGill varsity teams have also been referred to as the “McGill Indians,” “the tribe,” or “squ*ws.” Vanessa Racine, an Indigenous student who plays on the McGill Martlet rugby team, told the Daily that “people using the ‘history of the name’ as an excuse to keep it bothers me. It’s been used with a racist logo and in quotes such as ‘scalping R*dmen.’ When it’s associated with racist slang for so long, its semantics change and it becomes another stereotypical racist name that’s harmful to Indigenous communities.”
In 2017, the final report of the Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education urged for the University to immediately “begin a process of consultation inside McGill […] with the goal of renaming McGill male varsity teams.” The administration launched a Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming that aimed to establish a broad process for renaming at McGill, rather than directly addressing the issue. The final report from this working group will not be published until December, further delaying this process.
In addition to the demonstration, SSMU Indigenous Affairs issued an open letter to the University calling for the change of the name. They also started an online petition, which has received 5,000 signatures as of October 26. In an email addressed to students, Provost Manfredi “regretted” the “unfortunate” anti-Indigenous meaning the name has come to bear and went on to praise the “pride and honour” McGill athletes have brought to the University under the name. A SSMU student referendum concerning the change of the name will take place mid-November. However, the ultimate decision belongs to the McGill administration, which has failed to acknowledge the importance and urgency of the issue.
To only focus on the allegedly harmless origin of the name and disregard more than 60 years of its actively racist meaning is unacceptable. Changing the varsity team name is a crucial step in addressing McGill’s colonial and racist history. Join the demonstration at 2 p.m. on October 31.
*The McGill Daily’s Editorial Board decided to censor “R*dmen” to acknowledge that it is not our place to use the term.