λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw finally has a birth certificate to call his own.
The 14-month-old is the first child in British Columbia to have his Indigenous name on his registration.
“It’s a win for us,” said the boy’s mother, Crystal Smith, in an interview.
Getting to this point has taken most of Shaw’s short life. The family sued B.C.’s Vital Statistics Agency after it refused to register their infant’s name three times due to its Kwak’wala lettering.
“It’s definitely something to be celebrated, but it’s also not finished,” Smith said.
Smith’s lawyer informed her the province was implementing an interim policy, allowing λugʷaləs’ name to appear on his birth certificate. But Smith says the agency informed the lawyer it would need more time to make the change applicable to all people.
B.C.’s Ministry of Health, which oversees the Vital Statistics Agency, told Global News it would need more time to respond to questions about the apparent change in policy.
λugʷaləs K’ala’ask Shaw was born on Jan. 12 to a Ts’msyen and Haisla mother and a Liǧʷiłdax̌ʷ father from the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
“λugʷaləs means the place where people are blessed,” said Smith, referring to a mountain in Loughborough Inlet in unceded Wei Wai Kum territory.
“It’s important for us to name him after a place name so that he can be always connected to where he’s from.”
“It’s like a 10-minute walk to the beach and you can see all these places and different points and bays and mountains that these names come from,” said the boy’s father, Raymond Shaw, from the family home in Campbell River.
“So it’s important.”
Smith and Shaw have been forced to pay out of pocket for λugʷaləs’ medical expenses because he does not have a B.C. services card under his name, their lawsuit alleged, asking for compensation for those costs.
The B.C. government 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.
“This is not a moment for the government to give themselves a pat on the back,” Smith said.
“This is not the time for them to say we’ve taken a step in the right direction. Because we haven’t and we’re not.”
Smith wants to ensure the change applies to other Indigenous mothers to name their children in their language and for adults to reclaim their Indigenous names.
“Until that moment, we’ve just turned. The government has just turned the right direction.”
Smith plans to apply for a passport for λugʷaləs, which she expects to have denied. If that happens, it may mean another court fight is likely in the family’s future.
Even though she now has a birth certificate for λugʷaləs, Smith feels she’s owed an apology by the B.C. government.
“I guess actions are probably more important than words,” she said.
“But it would be nice for the province to apologize and say ‘sorry it’s taken this long’.”
– with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey
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