Bill introduced to allow Indigenous names on Manitoba birth certificates

Months after a Manitoba Grand Chief said he was outraged to learn some Indigenous families were being told they could not register their child’s chosen name, the Manitoba government says they now hope to make changes to allow for traditional Indigenous names to be registered on Manitoba birth certificates.

Back in February, Carson Robinson of Sagkeeng First Nation and his partner Zaagaate Jock celebrated the birth of their first child, but when they went to complete the newborn girl’s birth registry were told her traditional Mohawk name could not be entered into the system, so it could not be officially registered as her birth name.

The name chosen for the girl was Atetsenhtsén:we, which translates to “forever healing medicine” in Kanien'kéha, the Mohawk language, but that name could not be registered in Manitoba because it contains a colon.

According to Section 3 of Manitoba’s Vital Statistics Act, when registering a birth name in Manitoba the given name and the surname can consist only of the letters ‘a’ to ‘z’, accents from the English or French languages, and hyphens and apostrophes.

But under the current system characters like colons, which are characters used in some traditional Indigenous names and languages, cannot be registered on birth registries.

That prompted the couple to file a complaint with the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) and led to condemnation at the time from SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, who said the province should take immediate steps to allow for the registration of traditional Indigenous names.

“To further delay this change only serves to detract from the spirit of true reconciliation,” Daniels said at the time.

After the complaint came to light back in February, the province said they would look into the issue, and hoped to make changes that would allow for more characters to be used in birth names.

On Thursday, Labour Minister Reg Helwer tabled a bill in the Manitoba Legislature that would amend the vital statistics act, and allow for names spelled with symbols such as colons and semicolons to be recognized formally in Manitoba on birth registries.

“Names are very personal to families and individuals, important to everybody,” Helwer said while introducing the bill on Thursday.

If the bill passes, the legislation would allow for colons, semicolons, periods and other symbols in names, and would also allow people to be registered under a single name, rather than requiring both a given name and a surname.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun