'It's not reconciliation but it's reclamation': Cree language expert wants to see more traditional names reclaimed
A Cree language expert in Saskatchewan is hopeful the provincial government will allow Indigenous people to apply to reclaim their traditional names on government identification after the federal government committed to a similar plan on Monday.
The Government of Canada announced Monday that Indigenous people may apply to reclaim their traditional names on passports and other government ID. The move comes in response to a call to action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The call to action demanded governments allow survivors and their families to restore names changed by the residential school system.
After graduating with a bachelor of arts in Cree Language and Literacy, Darian Âcikahtê said he now understands how to pronounce his name properly.
“I’m trying to even teach myself, cause it’s been 23 years of saying Agecoutay. Now that I know the language, I know how it sounds, Âcikahtê, so now I’m trying to teach myself,” Darian Âcikahtê said.
Maintaining traditional languages is crucial to keeping a culture alive, according to Âcikahtê.
On his home reserve of Cowessess First Nation, only a handful of members still have their traditional names. He said this is a result of the work done to assimilate Indigenous children in residential schools.
“Last names at the time of treaty signings that have been lost, like ê-kwêkwânâpê, nîkânikwânâpê, nîpâpinês, all those names, you don’t hear them anymore on my reserve,” Âcikahtê said.
Many from Cowessess now have french last names, or their Indigenous names have been anglicized.
Âcikahtê said he’s thankful Indigenous people can reclaim their traditional names on federal IDs, and said it's important the province offers the same opportunity.
The Government of Saskatchewan said in an email to CTV News it is aware of the announcement made by the federal government, and it has yet to determine whether there is any impact to the current process for Saskatchewan residents.
All fees will be waived for the name-changing process, which pertains to passports, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards.
“That’s reclamation you know? It’s not reconciliation but it’s reclamation, and that’s what we kind of need,” he said.
Not everyone will be interested in reclaiming their traditional name, Âcikahtê said, but he explained it’s critical for Indigenous people to have the option to chose for themselves.