Mother lobbies MLAs to get Indigenous symbols recognized on birth certificates

Shene Catholique Valpy has been asking the N.W.T. government to recognize Indigenous symbols on government documents for years, and this week MLA Shane Thompson tabled a letter from her in the legislative assembly.

'I am writing to you to ask for your help,' says Shene Catholique Valpy

Shene Catholique Valpy and her children went to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday to watch as MLA Shane Thompson tabled her letter. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Shene Catholique Valpy has been asking the N.W.T. government to recognize Indigenous symbols in names on government documents for years, and on Thursday, MLA Shane Thompson tabled a letter from her in the territory's Legislative Assembly.

"I am writing to you to ask for your help," wrote Catholique Valpy.

"I ask that you lobby for Aboriginal languages by standing up and raising the issue in a member statement in support of my efforts."

This is her fifth year trying to get the font recognized in government documents. She started after her daughter Sahᾴí̜ʔᾳ was born.

The symbol Ɂ is a glottal stop in Chipewyan that signifies both pronunciation and meaning; without it, the name would both sound and mean something completely different.

When Sahᾴí̜ʔᾳ was born, vital statistics told Catholique Valpy that the glottal stop is not part of the Roman alphabet. Sahᾴí̜ʔᾳ​ now has a younger sister, Náʔël Nóríya May Talbot, who also has a glottal stop in her name.

In her letter, Catholique Valpy said, "Our Dene font exists. You use them on your [territorial government] correspondence, including on the signage across the territories in government buildings and hospitals.

"I am also able to type with the fonts on my keyboard at home and on my computer."

In an interview with CBC, Catholique Valpy said she's "frustrated" but "hopeful."

"It should be easier than what they're saying it to be," she said.

But when Shane Thompson, MLA for Nahendeh, questioned Health Minister Glen Abernethy about the slow progress in getting the symbols recognized, Abernethy said it's not that easy.

Shene Catholique Valpy wants her daughters' name to include a glottal stop. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

He said in his department alone, there are 40 systems in use that would need to be updated and changed to recognize the symbols; in the government, there are about 400 systems and those can't be changed until a guide is made.

'Transliteration guide' ready in 2019

The "transliteration guide" would allow the government to use traditional names on things like birth certificates and passports. The guide would help transcribe the accents in nine official Indigenous languages in the N.W.T. 

Abernethy said right now the Department of Education, Culture and Employment is making a draft of the guide that should be ready this year.

The guide would then be presented to the federal government to see if it will accept it and use it.

As well, he said he wants to make sure people aren't adversely affected.

For example, he said airlines require that all documentation have names spelled the same way, and he doesn't want to create a situation in which people aren't allowed to get on planes because of the way their name is spelled.

Abernethy said currently there is no clear timeline for when the symbols will be used on government documents, but he's committed to doing it because it's an "important commitment."

With files from Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi