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Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government identification. He says this announcement comes in response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that demanded governments to allow survivors and their families to restore names changed by the residential school system. The Canadian Press

First Nations, Inuit and Métis people can reclaim their Indigenous names on passports and other government documents, the federal government has announced.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said Monday that the change will include things such as travel documents and citizenship certificates, adding that the service will be provided free of charge for five years.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the use of traditional names is intrinsic to Indigenous languages and cultures, as well as to identity and dignity. He said the decision is in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) call to action 17, which referenced passports.

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But the department decided to go further to include a host of other documents, Mr. Mendicino said, adding that the work will be done with Indigenous leaders and communities to ensure the process is smooth.

“Our names are among the first things we receive,” he said. “They’re individualized, unique. They speak to our past, honouring those who came before us, and reflect our family’s history. Naming children is a profoundly important tradition across many different cultures and communities. The traditional names given to Indigenous children carry deep cultural meaning. Yet, for many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, colonialism has robbed them of these sacred names.”

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Indigenous children who were taken from their families and forced into the residential school system also had their names stolen from them, Mr. Mendicino said, pointing to the testimonials of survivors in the TRC’s final report.

IRCC said it is working on two other calls to action, including an update of the Citizenship Guide that will include the role Indigenous peoples played in the development of Canada and an amendment to the Oath of Canadian Citizenship that will refer to the rights of Indigenous peoples and treaties. Last week, a bill designed to amend the Citizenship Act to change the oath of citizenship passed third reading in the Senate. It is now awaiting royal assent.

In the past two weeks, Ottawa has faced pressure to further advance reconciliation in Canada after Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation in B.C. said it had discovered the remains of 215 children, former students of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in unmarked graves. The finding touched off vigils and commemorations and demands that provincial governments and the federal government do more.

On Monday, Ottawa also announced appointees to the new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. Ronald Ignace will serve as the commissioner, with Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty and Joan Greyeyes as directors. The office will support Indigenous people to ensure their languages can be shared and spoken for years to come.

The federal government said the directors and commissioner were selected for their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous communities, cultures and languages.

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“We celebrate this day where we breathe new life into all of our Indigenous languages for the future,” Dr. Ignace said. “Our languages will no longer stand in the shadow of other languages here in our land. Let us always honour our Indigenous languages.”

New Democrat MP Leah Gazan is calling on the federal government to recognize what happened at residential schools as genocide. In a motion to be tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday, Gazan is asking fellow lawmakers to unanimously deem the institutions' history as the systematic destruction of a cultural group, saying there is no reconciliation without proper acknowledgment. The Canadian Press

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