Manitoba looks to accept traditional Indigenous names with new law

Traditional Indigenous names spelled with accents and symbols could soon be recognized formally in Manitoba.

The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill on Thursday to amend the Vital Statistics Act to recognize these names.

Currently when registering a child’s birth, the given name and surname must consist only of the letters A to Z, and only accents from English and French, but may include hyphens and apostrophes, according to the Vital Statistics Act. 

But some symbols are not included, which this legislation would change.

Earlier this year, CBC Indigenous reported on a First Nations couple in Manitoba asking for the law to be changed.

Newborn’s name barred

Parents Carson Robinson and Zaagaate Jock couldn’t get their daughter’s name, Atetsenhtsén:we, accepted, because the colon symbol isn’t a present option for legal name spellings. Atetsenhtsén:we translates to “forever healing medicine” in Kanien’kéha, the Mohawk language. 

In May, the Opposition NDP took on the family’s campaign and introduced a private member’s bill to make the necessary changes to the Vital Statistics Act. 

Ian Bushie, the NDP critic for Indigenous reconciliation, said his bill was inspired by the family’s story.

“The reason why this colon is important is because it helps pronounce the words properly of the Mohawk language,” Robinson, the girl’s father, told reporters at the time.

Zaagaate Jock holds her newborn, Atetsenhtsén:we, while her partner, Carson Robinson, addresses the media during a May news conference. At the time, the Opposition NDP introduced a private members’ bill, which Ian Bushie, the NDP critic for Indigenous reconciliation, said was ‘really inspired by their story.’ (Ian Froese/CBC)

“We’re looking to end that sort of way of thinking between you need to name your baby either in English or in French. We want to be able to name our baby how we see fit in our traditional ways and our traditional ways of living.”

At the time, the government said it was looking to amend the act to allow for characters that aren’t currently included, but it would consult with Indigenous groups and others first.

If the bill passes, the legislation would incorporate colons, semicolons and periods. It would also permit a person to be registered under a single name, in accordance with a person’s traditional culture, rather than both a given name and a surname.

The bill has been tabled by the governing Tories, which have a majority in the legislature.