by Kerstin Auer —

Merritt City Council passed an amendment to the Fees and Charges Bylaw 2355 during their regular June 13 meeting, waiving the fingerprinting fee for Indigenous persons in the Merritt area reclaiming their ancestral name. The vote in favour of the change was unanimous, with the exception of Councillor Dana Egan, who was not present. 

“In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada made 94 Calls to Action in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation,” said Greg Lowis, director of corporate services for the City of Merritt, during the meeting.

“Call to Action 17 called upon all levels of government to enable residential school survivors and their families to reclaim names changed by the residential system by waiving administrative costs for a five year period for the name-change process and the revision of official identity documents.”

Other agencies involved in a name change, such as the Vital Statics Agency, previously already waived their fees; the City of Merritt still required payment of $55 for the mandatory fingerprinting process up until now. Taking fingerprints is a required step in the name change process and while the RCMP does the fingerprinting, the fee for it was charged by the city.

“The City of Merritt has been working to advance reconciliation in recent years, and is cognizant that changes need to be made in order for this to continue. As things stand, a person dealing with the federal, provincial, and municipal governments in order to reclaim an Indigenous name in the Merritt area would only need to pay administrative fees to the City, and if that continues then it could call into question our commitment to reconciliation,” added Lowis. 

After the unanimous vote of all councillors present, the fee is now waived, clearing any financial hurdles for those who wish to reclaim their ancestral name. The bylaw amendment is part of the City’s ongoing efforts to prioritize reconciliation with local First Nations, as laid out in Section 6 of the Official Community Plan Update 2020-2021

The community plan document also calls for a Merritt Reconciliation Action Plan to be developed in collaboration with First Nations. Further objectives are the creation of opportunities for public education and storytelling around Indigenous culture and history, providing Indigenous-informed training as well as intercultural competency and anti-racism training for council and city staff, and working with local First Nations to incorporate Indigenous language and arts into way finding and signage, street, park, and civic facilities naming, reads the document. 

The full document can be viewed on the City of Merritt’s website: http://www.merritt.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/section-6.pdf.