Indigenous business owner's Cree surname brings questions, ridicule

Kristen Standing on the Road, a small business owner from Rockland, Ont., says a lack of understanding of First Nations names means she regularly faces problems with government and others.

Kristen Standing on the Road says application to Service Ontario was initially rejected because of last name

Kristen Standing on the Road is the owner of the Purple Elephant Trunk, a bath bombs business. She says she faced discrimination because of her last name when she tried to register her business with Service Ontario. (Provided by Kristen Standing on the Road)

A small business owner from Rockland, Ont., hopes talking about the problems she regularly faces because of her Cree surname will make things less difficult down the road.

Last month Kristen Standing on the Road submitted an application to Service Ontario to register her bath bomb business, the Purple Elephant Trunk. It was rejected because Service Ontario questioned the authenticity of her Plains Cree surname, which has ties to her home community Maskwacis First Nation, Alta.

When an application is rejected, Service Ontario sends a letter to the applicant indicating which mistake was made. There are 19 potential errors listed, none of which involve the authenticity of a surname.

At the bottom of the letter Standing on the Road received, written in pen, it states, "please clarify your last name, 'Standing on the Road' was shown as your last name on your application."

"Obviously it is a different last name… but I'm still a person, I'm still a citizen of Canada and I should be able to get the same services as anyone else," said Standing on the Road.

When she contacted Service Ontario, she was told to fax in a copy of her identification, which isn't typically required to register a business with the province.

Service Ontario told CBC Indigenous that in such situations, a copy of identification can be either mailed or faxed to their office.

"If more information is required, we contact the customer in writing to advise them," wrote Stephen Puddister, Service Ontario's strategic media and issues advisor. He did not say how often people are asked for proof of their identification.

After weeks of trying to find out why Service Ontario questioned the authenticity of her last name, Standing on the Road received an apology and a promise that if she submitted a second application it would be approved.

She has since received notification that her application was accepted.

Regularly deals with ridicule 

Standing on the Road she said regularly experiences ridicule and puzzled looks when she tells people her last name.

There's a big difference between someone who is curious about the origin of her surname and someone making fun of it or questioning its authenticity, she said.

A receptionist at an optometrist's office in Orleans, Ont., recently made fun of her last name, Standing on the Road said.

Standing on the Road was asked for her identification in order to fill out paperwork.

"She had actually taken my licence and went around the office and showed all her co-workers my licence — and she was like, 'Look at the last name, isn't it funny?'"

These experiences are hurtful and reminders of how little Canadians know about First Nations culture and surnames, Standing on the Road said.

I'm going to do my best to be proud of it, and not let anyone knock me down about it- Kristen Standing on the Road

"When I'm being questioned all the time about my last name, it really does take a toll on you."

Standing on the Road hopes her story will inspire others to take time to learn about different cultures in Canada and to be more sensitive when dealing with people from different backgrounds.

"I'm actually going to be embracing my last name," she said. "I'm going to do my best to be proud of it, and not let anyone knock me down about it."