A First Nations couple in Manitoba is calling for changes to the province’s Vital Statistics Act after they were told at the hospital there might be issues registering their daughter’s birth with the traditional spelling of her name.
“We’re trying to preserve that custom of the Haudenosaunee people … and it’s like your name has to be approved by the English or by the French,” said Carson Robinson, who is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.
Robinson’s partner Zaagaate Jock gave birth to their daughter on Wednesday in Selkirk, Man. Jock is Anishinaabe-Haudenosaunee from Akwesasne, which straddles the U.S.-Ontario-Quebec border.
They named their daughter Atetsenhtsén:we, which translates to “forever healing medicine” in Kanien’kéha, the Mohawk language. They were given the name through ceremony via the birth mother’s traditional longhouse in Akwesasne.
When they submitted the birth registration form on Thursday, they were notified by the nurse-in-charge at the hospital that Vital Statistics might have issues with the colon symbol.
According to Robinson, the colon is commonly used in Kanien’kéha orthography and is necessary to say her name properly.
According to Manitoba’s Vital Statistics Act, when registering a child’s birth, “the given name and the surname must consist only of the letters ‘a’ to ‘z’ and accents from the English or French languages, but may include hyphens and apostrophes.”
“The nurse-in-charge actually called the higher ups of Vital Statistics regarding her name and I guess higher management at Vital Statistics said that it’s an ineligible name because of the colon in the baby’s name and then possibly because of the [accented] e,” said Robinson.
Robinson said the nurses at the hospital were supportive of the name, and that one of the nurses called the rule “archaic.”
“[What] I would like to see … is more parents having that freedom to name their baby however they see fit, in their Indigenous languages or in their customs, regardless if they have these things that need to be approved by the province,” said Robinson.
Jock, whose first name Zaagaate translates to “the sun shining through the clouds” in Anishinaabemowin, said she was disappointed that there was an issue with the spelling of the name and wants for Indigenous names to be accepted.
“When I was born, I was given a traditional name, so to me it is a very important part of her identity and where she comes from,” said Jock.
Wab Kinew, leader of Manitoba’s Opposition NDP, spoke to the parents and wrote a letter addressed to Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, asking him to assist them in ensuring the registration reflects the name they gave her.
“The naming of children in the Indigenous community with Indigenous names is a key part of cultural survival and resurgence, particularly set against the history of Indigenous children having their Indigenous names erased when they were taken from their families during the residential school era,” wrote Kinew in the letter.
A spokesperson for the province wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News that Manitoba’s Vital Statistics Branch respects the right of all parents to name their children.
“The agency works with parents and families of all backgrounds to ensure names of choice are accommodated in the registration process,” the statement said.
“The province encourages the applicant to contact the A/Director at the Vital Statistics Branch to discuss the inquiry.”