A couple in Campbell River, B.C. is standing their ground after the provincial government refused to register their infant’s name due to its Kwak’wala lettering.
Crystal Smith and Raymond Shaw say they won’t register three-month-old λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw until B.C.’s Vital Statistics Agency can accept his name as written.
“It was infuriating,” Smith said of learning her son’s name would not be entered into the system.
“I ended up calling the office and I told them that this is his name, there is no other name that we could give him.”
λugʷaləs is the name of a mountain in nearby Loughborough Inlet, in unceded Wei Wai Kum territory. It means, “the place where people were blessed.”
Shaw’s great-grandmother was born near the head of the inlet and the couple said they wanted little λugʷaləs to be rooted in his territory and connected to his ancestors.
“His name carries a lot of significance, a story. The history of it goes back quite a while and it’s a story of survival,” Shaw explained.
Since λugʷaləs was born, the couple has attempted multiple times to register his name both online and in-person. Smith said she has received correspondence from the province that has spelled λugʷaləs’ name wrong, suggested a made-up anglicized version, and eventually, rejected the Kwak’wala spelling.
In an emailed statement, the B.C. Ministry of Health said it is aware parents have been unable to register the births of their children with names that include “certain characters.”
As it stands, it said the Vital Statistics Agency only registers names with Latin alphabetic letters, standard French accents, apostrophes, hyphens and a period. It does not accept numbers, brackets, slashes and other symbols.
“We understand how distressing and frustrating this may be for families, and that it disproportionately affects Indigenous families. We are working on making changes and will have more to share soon.”
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Meanwhile, Smith and Shaw are waiting and frustrated.
The couple can’t get a care card, apply for tax credits or a spot in daycare for λugʷaləs until he’s registered with a birth certificate, and they’re currently paying for his health care out of pocket.
“This is an easy fix, they can just download the keyboard, but they’re making it more problematic, they’re making it harder than it has to be and we’re suffering because of it,” said Smith. “We should be able to name our children how we see fit, so it’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to do this.”
λugʷaləs was born on unceded Indigenous land, Smith added, and there will be no compromise when it comes to his sacred name. Indigenous peoples have been compromising since the day colonizers landed on Turtle Island, she said.
The B.C. government recently released an action plan for implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which Canada ratified in June 2021. One of the steps in that plan is to adopt an “inclusive digital font” that allows Indigenous languages to be included in official records.
“We are committed to ensuring that Indigenous languages are living, used, taught and visible throughout their respective territories and across the province — and that includes ensuring that parents can register the births of their children with traditional names,” said the health ministry’s statement.
Smith said it’s unacceptable that it’s taking this long to implement such a simple solution, given the wealth of resources at the government’s command. She said the family is in touch with lawyers to learn more about “next steps.”