Emme Abs, a Grade 12 student in Golden, inspired Doug Clovechok, MPP for Columbia River Revelstoke, to introduce a private member’s bill that would allow Native characters on birth certificates, adoption papers and government IDs in British Columbia.
Clovechok says a letter she wrote to him is what led him to introduce the bill, and that his passion for reclaiming Indigenous names for residential school survivors moved him.
The letter was written as part of a course on cultural genocide and appeals to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 17th Call to Action, which seeks to recover names altered by the residential school system.
Bill M209 was tabled on Thursday, May 19. Clovechok dubbed him “Emme’s Bill”.
“Indigenous peoples were stripped of their traditional names by the residential school system and this bill directly addresses one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action,” said Clovechok.
“Indigenous candidates whose names have been refused have been informed by the government that current software does not tolerate special characters. It is unacceptable that John Horgan has a billion dollars for a vanity museum project, but cannot afford to buy software that allows indigenous peoples to use their rightful names. This bill would force them to act.
Currently, government systems in British Columbia cannot incorporate marks such as accents and symbols, which are essential parts of the names of many Indigenous peoples.
The “Emme Bill” would allow characters other than the Latin alphabet to be officially accepted and recognized on important government documents, such as birth certificates, in the case of British Columbians of First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
“The traditional names given to Aboriginal children have deep cultural significance. Being able to have documents like birth certificates reflecting true cultural names in Indigenous languages is not just symbolic, but a matter of deep personal identity. They have meaning,” Clovechok said.
“So many Indigenous names use characters, numbers and symbols that have for too long been inadmissible on official provincial documents. John Horgan and the NDP must recognize that it is their duty to find a way to accommodate native names in the future.
Clovechok himself feels a special affinity and kinship with Indigenous peoples as an adopted member of the Weasel Traveler family of the Piikani First Nation.
There is no timetable for the implementation of these changes.
~With files by Carolyn Grant
truth and reconciliation commission