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Race and culture issues prompt LU to put Victor the Voyageur mascot 'on ice'

PhD student calls mascot and team name 'racist' because the voyageurs are a symbol of colonization
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Victor the Voyageur, mascot Laurentian University (Facebook.com/LUVoyageurs)

A certain burly, bearded mascot has been absent from Laurentian University's varsity games this school year.

The university put Victor the Voyageur “on ice” as it looks into issues of race and culture surrounding the mascot, said Serge Demers, Laurentian's interim vice-president academic and provost.

The mascot is meant to depict a voyageur, French-Canadians who engaged in the transporting of furs by canoe during the fur trade years. Laurentian's varsity teams are also known as the Voyageurs.

“We have a mascot that is a caricature of a human,” said Demers. “I think every institution that has that has to do a bit of reflection as to whether or not that caricature represents truly what they want to showcase.”

He said the university has been having “internal conversations” after community members “provided some comments to us.” It's important that Laurentian actually listens after receiving comments of this nature, Demers said.

“My hope is within a month, we come to a conclusion in terms of this reflection on Vic,” he said.

“What I'm seeing as possible outcomes, I guess they are threefold. The first one is Vic returns as he was. The second outcome could be Vic coming in with a different form of some sort, and that remains to be determined what that form would look like.

“Or really, the third one is that we have no mascot at all. We're still wondering whether or not in 2020 mascots are a critical part of our institution.”

Demers said he hasn't heard of anyone questioning whether Laurentian's varsity teams should even be called the Voyageurs.

Laurentian human studies PhD student Ryan Michael Wildgoose told Sudbury.com both the Voyageurs team name and the mascot should be scrapped.

Wildgoose, who holds a bachelor's and master's degree in history, said the voyageurs are a symbol of colonization, and thus the destruction of Indigenous culture.

“The main issue with the mascot is what the school is calling cultural insensitivity,” said Wildgoose, who has provided his perspective on these issues to Laurentian's administration.

“People like to say cultural insensitivity when they're too scared to say racist. I would say the word racist in this case … 

“A lot of the pushback I've received in saying that is people saying the voyageurs weren't all bad, but we still need to consider the fact that they do represent colonization.

“Therefore on a university campus with a strong Indigenous cultural and a tricultural mandate, we need to be conscious of what that means for the Indigenous peoples.”

The tricultural mandate at Laurentian University mentioned by Wildgoose is a focus on Anglophone, Francophone and Indigenous cultures.

Wildgoose said some have pointed out the voyageur is a symbol of French-Canadian culture, and francophones were oppressed by the English-language ruling class in the past.

“(And) Indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced oppression at the hands of both,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Sudbury artist who created Victor the Voyageur said he was surprised by the criticism. Rob Sacchetto said he was hired by Laurentian to design the Victor the Voyageur character years ago. His design was later used as the basis for the mascot costume, which has been in use since 2013.

He said he doesn't really understand the accusation the mascot is racist, but if Laurentian would like him to design a new mascot, Sacchetto said he'd be happy to do that.

"I'd absolutely be ready to design a new one," he said. "I don't know what angle they would take in designing a new one, but I'm open to whatever suggestions they would have."