Today, McGill made the necessary decision to change the Redmen name as Principal Suzanne Fortier announced that “[e]ffective today, McGill University’s men’s varsity teams will cease to be called the Redmen.” In doing this, the administration had demonstrated a willingness to move towards reconciliation and has reaffirmed our community’s collective obligation in addressing the wrongs of our past.
As has been noted throughout the #ChangeTheName campaign, the Redmen name has contributed to a stereotypical and hyper-masculine depiction of Indigenous peoples. This name has actively contributed to a University that historically has been, and often continues to be, hostile to the presence of Indigenous students. Until today, the name has stood as a forceful and continued barrier to reconciliation at McGill. In changing the name and addressing the damage it has done, we can begin to move forward in the name of reconciliation.
Reconciliation requires critical moments of self-reflection. It is not easy, mindless, or heartless work. There will be moments of great awkwardness and unease. This is inevitable as we confront the challenges of reconciliation, and the reality of our shared history. However, we cannot allow these challenges to stall the very necessary work that must be done in addressing reconciliation. Each and every one of us at McGill–administrators, professors, students, staff and alumni–must continue to critically engage with power dynamics, colonialism, and the legacy of racism in our community.
While we welcome the decision made by the administration today, we somberly note the damage done in maintaining such an inflammatory and racist name. Reconciliation demands that we voice our disappointment with the amount of time it has taken for our community to arrive at this decision. The name change is an important first step, but, as a community, we must remain engaged and committed in addressing the damage done by the name. Doing so will require increased recognition and support for Indigenous students through services such as the First Peoples’ House, an expansion of the Indigenous studies program to allow for increased access and exposure to Indigenous pedagogical approaches, and the increased representation of Indigenous people on governing bodies.The Provost’s Taskforce on Indigenous Studies and Education, published in 2017, was drafted with a considerable amount of Indigenous participation and consultation. It includes many calls to action that can guide us forward along this path.
Today serves as an occasion for celebration. While we must recognize the many challenges before McGill, today is but one example of many of how we can move forward together in reconciliation. Our community has been fully engaged in the #ChangeTheName campaign, from powerful Indigenous student leadership that provided a vehicle for non-Indigenous student allyship, to the solidarity shown by professors and non-academic staff. Students, professors, staff members, and concerned community members wrote letters, signed petitions, attended demonstrations and participated in events, educating themselves and others in the process. We recognize the incredible support shown by community organizations, including Nakuset and the Native Women’s Shelter, Native Montreal, and support shown by individuals from Kahnwá:ke.
The end of this semester marks the conclusion of the #ChangeTheName campaign. McGill stands on the cusp of its third century having made the right decision today. Although reaching this decision has taken so long, we are hopeful that it marks a commitment to a new approach: one characterized by equity and inclusiveness, in which we are honest about our past in order to build a more open future, guided by a commitment to engage with every member of our community with dignity and respect. This campaign was successful because it was led by Indigenous students who took it upon themselves to passionately and forcefully bring this issue under greater scrutiny for their own sake and for the sake of their community and our greater community more broadly. In response, non-Indigenous community members listened, learned, and worked with them–neither ignoring nor monopolizing this issue. We need more of this on our campus. With the announcement today and the #ChangeTheName campaign as an example, laying the foundation for further and ongoing work towards reconciliation, we can all stand a little prouder as members of the McGill community.
Tomas Jirousek, SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner
SSMU 2018-2019 Executive Team