To date, the 40 entries in this blog have all been more or less related to our family genealogy. Today, I will do something unusual and engage in a primarily political rant.
My thoughts were piqued by a piece on CBC’s The National last week. It concerned the difficulties encountered by First Nations families in various Canadian provinces in having the names chosen for their new-born infants accepted by provincial authorities. What was the difficulty? The problem was that these parents wanted to choose aboriginal names for their children and these were rejected or altered because they may have included special characters, numbers, hyphens or colons. You are invited to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Af65Nc9LvQk .
In the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Canada’s commitment to make amends to First Nations peoples, this represents a major failure in the endeavours to do so. We are now well aware with the public exposure over the last decade of the evils that we as settlers and colonizers have committed under the auspices of the Indian Act and residential schools. In addition to the abuses and deaths which occurred in residential schools, there was also the cultural genocide involving loss of culture and language among First Nations children.
A major element of this disappearance of culture was the loss of aboriginal names; children were told to no longer use their names and were instead assigned numbers. Survivors of residential schools still remember that they were called 45 or 86! Eventually, they assumed English or sometimes French first names as well as surnames.
So as First Nations peoples attempt to reconnect with their original cultures, it is obvious that one way, in addition to relearning aboriginal languages, is to give their children aboriginal names. So refusal by provincial authorities to accede to such requests is an abject rejection of their new-found reclaimed identities as peoples.
There are many parallels that can be found among other formerly colonized people around the world. A notable example is Ireland. Colonized by England since the late middle ages, the original Celtic culture in Ireland with its own language was subsumed by English. In addition, Gaelic names, both given and surnames, were anglicized. Since the independence of Ireland from the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century, there was a revival of Gaelic although the dominance of English is permanent. However, many Irish people choose Gaelic names for themselves and their children as a way to express their identity.
A similar parallel can made with the situation of French in Canada and Quebec. French was in danger of withering away until the advent of the Quiet Revolution and a Parti Québécois government in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, which established the primacy of French in Quebec and official status in Canada.
And then we can get around to the situation of Fryslân in the Netherlands! Frisians represent a separate language and culture in the Netherlands which has been officially recognized by the Netherlands government. Frisian is taught in the schools. And typically Frisian names which do not exist in the rest of the country are still widely used in the province. This is not to underestimate the difficulties encountered in getting to this point. Until 1800, the Frisian written language had disappeared and was revived through great effort. The right to trials in Frisian in the courts and Frisian in schools were obtained by the mid 20th century as a result of numerous battles.
Immigrants also face the difficulty of adapting to a new dominant culture. The major element of this adaptation is learning the language(s) of the new country and very quickly losing the original language, usually within one generation. Another element is adopting English names. First generation parents and children often anglicized their names, often with rather amusing results. In many cases, teachers led the way in assigning names rather than making any attempt to pronounce the original names. For later generations, this adaptation becomes automatic.
A personal aside: in my early years in Canada, our parents and I were told that I should anglicize my name. I could have become a Clarence! I must have been particularly stubborn in Grade 1 or 2. I insisted my name was Klaas and Klaas I remain to this day!