How could a Canadian University and an American professional football franchise have anything in common? Well, for a time, the McGill University’s varsity hockey and football teams had an Aboriginal Chief in full head gear as their mascot. Aboriginal people in Canada are the same as Native Americans in the United States. This Chief was on their helmets, and shoulder pads of both teams. In the United States, there has been vigorous debate about the use of Native Americans as mascots in both amateur and professional sports, and its offense to Native Americans. The debate has included all amateur and professional teams that use Native Americans as their mascots. In response to this pressure, several colleges in the United States have reacted by changing either their emblem or team name. McGill made a similar change, not in name, but its depiction the Aboriginal Chief ceased in 1992. Its use of the emblem only lasted from 1982 to 1992, but how it came to be used, and how it was decided to no longer be used, is an interesting story.
In 1982, after a long contest was held, a decision was made to go with a new logo. That logo would be an Aboriginal Chief with full headdress. The name Redmen had been used since 1927, but it was never intended to reference any Aboriginal people. Instead, the name referenced the Scottish heritage of its founder, James McGill. At one time, because of the color of their red hair, Celtics were referred to as “Red Men”. Therefore, the name Redmen, never had anything to do with Native Americans, or Aboriginal People. Instead, the student body voted to use the emblem or symbol as their mascot. The response was positive. Even from Aboriginal people, it was accepted. In fact, an Aboriginal player on the team by the name of Val St. Germain went as far as tattooing the emblem on his body and looked upon the symbol with great pride. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League and when asked about the emblem, staunchly defended its use. In 1992, when the decision was made to remove the emblem, even the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, Ovide Mercredi, stated that he did not find the emblem offensive in any way. According to him, the university could continue to use the symbol. Both Germain and Mercredi actually went as far as writing letters attesting to their acceptance and reverence for the use of the symbol.
So, what does all this have to do with the Washington Redskins? Well, for one, the McGill symbol was almost identical to the current Redskins logo of a proud chief in full regalia. It was not a mockery of Native Americans, and it was not a caricature in any way. I have written about this before, and provided ample evidence to support how Native Americans view Indian mascots in sports. If you would like to read the article, I have included it here.
What truly offends Aboriginal People or Native Americans are caricatures, such as big nose of the Cleveland Indian and the tomahawk chop of the Atlanta Braves. The Washington Redskin symbol in no way degrades Native Americans. The term Redskin does not refer to bounties from Indian scalps. The original name is a European one, and was used to describe the red war paint used by Native Americans in battle. Only later was it improperly used to describe other unfavorable depictions.
The McGill story is but another example of how Native Americans or Aboriginal people are not offended by emblems or symbols in amateur or professional sports, provided that symbol is not a caricature or mockery of their history and way of life. Even when faced with support from Aboriginal people, and the head of the First Nations in Canada, a decision was still made by non-Aboriginals to remove the symbol. If it doesn’t offend Aboriginal or Native Americans, why are non-Indians fighting a cause that simply doesn’t concern them?