If passed, a new bill introduced by a BC Liberal MLA will allow Indigenous names with symbols and accents to be included on government documents, such as birth certificates, drivers’ licences and adoption papers.
Liberal MLA Doug Clovechok has again introduced the Indigenous Names Statutes Amendment Act after the New Democratic Party (NDP) failed to call forward the bill in 2022.
“Indigenous people were stripped of their traditional names by the residential school system, and this bill directly responds to one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Clovechok, who was elected as the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke in 2017 and re-elected in 2020.
“Indigenous applicants being denied their names have been told by government that current software won’t tolerate special characters.”
“It’s unacceptable that the NDP are willing to spend our province into a deficit this year but won’t pay for software that will permit Indigenous people to use their rightful names,” he said, adding how this bill would “force them into action.”
Currently, the province only permits the use of Latin alphabetic letters to be officially accepted on important government documents, leaving no room for the countless accents, numbers and symbols used by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis - often necessary to alter the pronunciation and meaning of words.
Emme Abbs, a Grade 12 student from Golden in B.C, had inspired Clovelock to introduce the legislation after sending him a letter, detailing her desire to aid those who had gone through the residential school system.
Her passion for the reclamation of Indigenous names for residential school survivors and their families moved Clovechok, an adopted member of the Weasel Traveller family of the Piikani First Nation.
Clovechok said the NDP must “recognize that it is their duty” to find a way to accommodate Indigenous names going forward.
“The traditional names given to Indigenous children carry deep cultural meaning,” he said.
“Being able to have documents like birth certificates reflect true cultural names in Indigenous languages is not just symbolic, but a matter of profound personal identity.”
“They have meaning. They matter.”
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.