Tories plan to allow Vital Statistics to register traditional Indigenous names

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Manitoba’s government introduced legislation Thursday that would allow residents to register traditional names previously blocked by the Vital Statistics Act.

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Manitoba’s government introduced legislation Thursday that would allow residents to register traditional names previously blocked by the Vital Statistics Act.

“Names are deeply personal and reflect our culture and our ancestry,” Government Services Minister Reg Helwer said in the house. “This bill provides for additional characters and a single-name option to be used on foundational identity documents when in accordance with cultural practice.”

Legislation currently prohibits the use of characters other than letters A through Z, accents from English or French, hyphens and apostrophes on birth certificates.

“Names are deeply personal and reflect our culture and our ancestry,” Government Services Minister Reg Helwer said. (Jessica Lee / Free Press files)

Bill 3 (the Vital Statistics Amendment Act — Name Registration) responds to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action in 2015 “for all levels of government to enable residential school survivors and their families to reclaim names changed by the residential school system by waiving administrative costs for a period of five years for the name-change process and the revision of official identity documents, such as birth certificates, passports, driver’s licences, health cards, status cards, and social insurance numbers.”

The bill would remove the restriction on the number of names that may be included in a surname and includes typographical symbols and marks above and below letters — “diacritics” — that indicate a difference in pronunciation from the same letter when unmarked or differently marked. The bill says that further additions may be included in the regulations.

Helwer told reporters that government received “a lot of good advice” from Indigenous leaders on the bill and will continue to meet with grand chiefs about further additions and updates to the regulations.

The legislation would bring Manitoba in line with Alberta and Ontario and follows the federal government’s June 2021 announcement that it would be following the call to action for all Indigenous people to reclaim their traditional names in travel documents, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards.

NDP Indigenous affairs critic Ian Bushie said the Progressive Conservatives had an opportunity to act in May, when he introduced a private member’s bill to repeal all limits on characters accepted by Vital Statistics and allow parents to register a child with a single name in keeping with their cultural heritage.

“As an Indigenous MLA, I was proud to introduce a bill to do this,” Bushie said in a statement Thursday. “The ability to use a traditional name on an Indigenous child’s birth certificate is a rejection of the history of residential schools that (sought) to erase Indigenous culture.

“It’s disappointing the PCs would rather score the win (than) partner with an Indigenous person on a bill that takes a step forward in reconciliation.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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