Indigenous Canadians will be able to use their traditional names on official documents such as passports, the government said Monday, in the wake of a scandal at residential schools.
The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of indigenous students at a former residential school in the province of British Columbia has again put a spotlight on Canada’s past racist policies.
“Indigenous children stolen from their families to be forced into the residential school system had even their very names stolen from them,” Immigration Minister Marco Menticino said at a press briefing.
He raised the example of one young Inuit girl named Masek who became Alice, saying “she would not hear her original name until she returned home.”
“Traditional names are deeply connected to indigenous languages and cultures, and an individual’s identity and dignity,” he added.
“This change means that indigenous peoples can proudly reclaim their name, dismantling the legacy of colonialism and reflecting their true identity.”
Some 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis children were enrolled in residential schools, where students were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
At least 4,100 students died from disease, malnutrition or neglect, according to a truth and reconciliation commission that in 2015 called it “cultural genocide.”
The move on Monday allowing indigenous names was in response to one of the 94 recommendations made by the commission.
The grim discovery last month using ground-penetrating radar of unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was a shocking reminder for many Canadians of the suffering and discrimination experienced by the country’s indigenous people.