Suzanne Fortier, the school’s principal and vice-chancellor, announced her decision Friday, saying the name made indigenous students feel alienated.
“They feel disrespected and unconsidered. They feel conflicted over their rightful pride in being Indigenous people, and their pride in being McGill students,” Fortier said in a statement. “This tension is even stronger for Indigenous student-athletes.”
Fortier noted the university in Montreal had not adopted the name as a reference to North American indigenous peoples but said that perceptions have since then changed.
“McGill did not adopt the Redmen name as a reference to North American Indigenous peoples. However, the name has been associated with Indigenous peoples at different points in our history. Today, ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries,” the principal said.
“While this derogatory meaning of the word does not reflect the beliefs of generations of McGill athletes who have proudly competed wearing the University’s colours, we cannot ignore this contemporary understanding. Intention, however benign, does not negate prejudicial effect.”
Fortier said the change is effective immediately and the teams will be be known as only “McGill” for the upcoming athletic season.
The school said the decision does not affect the women’s teams, which are called the Martlets. The name is a reference to a mythical bird that cannot land because it has no feet.
The reference to indigenous people began in the 1950s when the school adopted a logo depicting an indigenous man wearing a headdress.
The school is expected to pick a new name that “everyone can wear, and cheer for, with pride” for the 2020-2021 season, Fortier said.
American sports teams have recently faced similar criticism due to their names and logos.
Native American groups and some politicians, including former President Barack Obama, have pressured the NFL’s Washington Redskins to consider a name change but its owner, Daniel Snyder, has insisted the name its not offensive to Native Americans.
CNN’s Melissa Gray contributed to this report.