Emme Abbs, a Grade 12 student in Golden, has inspired Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok to introduce a private member’s bill that would allow Indigenous language characters on birth certificates, adoption papers and pieces of government identification in B.C.
Clovechok says a letter that she wrote him is what led him to introduce the bill, and that her passion for the reclamation of Indigenous names for residential school survivors moved him.
The letter was written as a part of a class about cultural genocide, and calls on the 17th call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which seeks to reclaim names changed by the residential school system.
Bill M209 was introduced on Thursday, May 19.
Clovechok has dubbed it “Emme’s bill.”
“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.
“Indigenous applicants being denied their names have been told by government that current software won’t tolerate special characters. It’s unacceptable that John Horgan has one billion dollars for a vanity museum project, but can’t afford software that will permit Indigenous people to use their rightful names. This bill would force them to take action.”
Currently, government systems in B.C. can’t incorporate marks such as accents and symbols, which are vital parts of the names of many Indigenous people.
Emme’s bill would allow for characters other than Latin alphabetic letters to be officially accepted and recognized on important government documents, like birth certificates, in the case of British Columbians with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis ancestry.
At the time of the first reading of the bill on May 19, the province had already committed to implementing changes, including the adoption of an inclusive digital font.
“The traditional names given to Indigenous children carry deep cultural meaning. 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,” said Clovechok.
“So many Indigenous names use characters, numbers, and symbols which for far too long have been ineligible on official provincial documents. John Horgan and the NDP must recognize that it is their duty to find a way to accommodate Indigenous names going forward.”
“Thank you to Doug Clovechok and Emme Abbs,” said Davene Dunn, member of the Métis Nation Columbia River Society in Golden. The MNCRS are thrilled with the recent bill and are proud of the work that Abbs had done to bring this issue to light.
Clovechok himself feels a special affinity and kinship with Indigenous people as an adopted member of the Weasel Traveller family of the Piikani First Nation.
There is no timeline for when these changes would be realized.
– With files from Carolyn Grant