Indigenous people can reclaim
their traditional names on immigration documents
by Michael Scott
The recent news in Canada has been dominated by the pandemic and the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school in British Columbia. The issue of residential schools has long been a sore spot in Canadian history and the potential deaths of hundreds if not thousands of school aged children only add to this horrible part of our past. Many of the culprits have passed from the earth but their notoriety lives on.
In Canada the statues and monuments to John A. McDonald and others who played a role in the establishment of residential schools and the cultural genocide of our aboriginal population is very much part of current discussions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission raised awareness amongst the general population to the cultural genocide of the past and the role of the residential school system. As a nation we share in the guilt of our forefathers who perpetrated the widespread abuse of a system that owed much to the colonialist and imperialist attitude of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was a time when persons such a Rudyard Kipling wrote about the “White Man’s Burden” to bring civilization and salvation to people in Canada who they deemed uncivilized. The language, culture, religious practices and even the very names of aboriginal Canadians were suppressed, condemned, and prohibited.
The impact of residential schools is not limited to British Columbia nor one residential school. The institution was encouraged by the federal government and operated across Canada, usually with the support and assistance of religious authorities. Sadly, the damage inflicted on the innocent Indigenous children is something that cannot forgotten but must be condemned and redressed. Governments at all levels are working together to locate unmarked gravesites and identify the victims. In Manitoba, for example, several sites of former residential schools in both Brandon and Winnipeg are being examined at this time. We need to find the graves and lay to rest the remains of the victims as the first step in trust and reconciliation. The tragedy or the missing and the publicly forgotten affects us all – some more than others. If you know of someone who needs help, support is available through Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-342-3310 (toll free) or an online chat at hopeforwellness.ca, open 24 hours a day. For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
On June 14, 2021, the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marco E.L. Mendicino added his voice to that of the Prime Minister and others to take concrete action to correct some of the misdeeds committed against our aboriginal population. He announced measures to address suppression of native naming systems by colonialist policies and practices. Indigenous names are endowed with deep cultural meanings and significance, and represent a way of respecting their traditions and values.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 17 directed all levels of government to enable residential school survivors and their families to reclaim and use their Indigenous names on all government documents. Six short years later, Minister Mendicino, along with the ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services, jointly announced that Indigenous persons can now use the names suppressed by the residential school system on passports and other immigration documents.
IRCC has gone beyond changing names in passports to include travel documents, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards. The changes affect not only residential school survivors but all Indigenous peoples. IRCC has streamlined the process to make it faster and more efficient, and this service will be provided free of charge for five years.
“Supporting First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples in reclaiming and using their Indigenous names is an integral part of the shared journey of reconciliation. Traditional names are deeply connected to Indigenous languages and cultures, and an individual’s identify and dignity,” Minister Mendicino stated. “This change means that Indigenous peoples can proudly reclaim their name, dismantling the legacy of colonialism and reflecting their true identity to the world.”
We need to locate the unmarked burial sites of residential school victims and have their identities made known to have some closure. Their deaths must become part of the public record, mourning and reconciliation. We can start by pulling down monuments to those who promoted assimilation in the most horrifying manner, including abuse and perhaps contributing to the death of innocent children. There is a current debate on the worthiness of renaming Bishop Grandin Blvd. in Winnipeg because of his complicity with residential schools in Manitoba. It is important that the abusers are remembered for their shame and Indigenous names are reclaimed by descendants as a testimony to healing and a collective apology by Canada for the actions of the past. The persecution of our Indigenous population is a fact and something we need to acknowledge and redress. If we do not learn from the errors of history, we are destined to commit the same mistakes. As a country we can start with respecting those who came with the land. They are not lesser people but deserving of respect and equal treatment before the law, including immigration.
Michael Scott is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC, R525678) who has 30 years of experience with Immigration Canada and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program. He currently works as a licensed consultant with Immigration Connexion International Ltd. Contact him at 204-691-1166 or 204-227-0292. E-mail: email@example.com.