In an effort to reclaim his indigenous identity, the Chief of the Lower Nicola Band has legally changed his name from Aaron Sam to Aaron Sumexheltza.

“A long time ago First Nations didn’t have last names,” said Sumexheltza. “What happened in a lot of the different parts of the country is the Indian agent or the church ministers came in and basically gave First Nations last names.”

He said this is the reason why many First Nations people across Canada share similar last names such as Sam, Joe or Dick.

“Personally, I didn’t really connect with my own last name,” said Sumexheltza. “One of the things our family decided to do is to reclaim our ancestral name. My great, great, great grandfather, his name was Sumexheltza.”

He is the first member of his family to take the new last name.

“I also felt as chief it’s a way to build pride in our community, and maybe down the road other community members will consider doing something similar,” said Sumexheltza.

He celebrated his name change last Saturday at a ceremony at the Lower Nicola Band School on Oct. 14, and will be keeping Sam as a middle name.