Catholic Vancouver March 12, 2018

Naming ceremony seen as step to reconciliation

By Agnieszka Ruck

Deacon Rennie Nahanee (right) and wife Emma receive new names during a traditional Squamish naming ceremony at St. Paul's Indian Catholic Church Feb. 24. (Photo courtesy Paul McGrath/North Shore News)

NORTH VANCOUVER—As a child, Rennie Nahanee was given a Stolo First Nations name by his mother. As an adult, he has now accepted it as his own.

“My mother gave me a name when I was young. She called me Skagha,” said Deacon Nahanee, a permanent deacon and the Archdiocese of Vancouvers First Nations ministry coordinator. Skagha means companion.

“One of the elders in North Vancouver kept telling me I should take that name, but add a Squamish name to it.”

Accepting an ancestral name involves a solemn ceremony, where the one receiving the name stands on new, never-used blankets, wears traditional clothing, and calls witnesses who can talk about the historical and cultural significance of the name.

Deacon Nahanee, wearing traditional regalia and with blankets wrapped around his shoulders, was given an ancestral name at St. Paul's Indian Catholic Church Feb. 24. He accepted two names to reflect his Stolo and Squamish identities and now signs his name Skagha Kin Rennie Nahanee.

“Your name is depending on what you do in the community,” said Deacon Nahanee. The second name, Kin, means warrior. The names have special significance for him.

“I am companion to the people who are in the church, and not just the church itself, but companion to the people in the community, and you might even say the whole world, to all the people who are in need,” he said. 

“The warrior is like in a protective sense, to be strong and be able to defend the people.”

It was not just a memorable moment for him. About 45 people turned up to witness the historic event, the first time a naming ceremony has ever been held inside St. Paul’s.

“I see it as reconciliation,” said Deacon Nahanee. “There are (First Nations) paintings in there, and there’s some carvings, and things like that, but our culture has never been brought into the church in that way.”

He’s thrilled with the possibility of finding more ways to promote First Nations traditions within the community at St. Paul’s. His family, including wife Emma and son Chris, have been very supportive.

“I am willing to be part of the reconciliation process alongside my husband and be of any help to my elders,” said Emma, who is from the Philippines. She also received a new name at the ceremony: Kwakwemelwit, which means eagle.

“When my name was announced, I was overjoyed and felt like I got baptized again. I couldn’t help my tears rolling down,” she said. “I am so proud and overwhelmed.”

Her husband explained that an eagle seen circling above is considered good luck in his culture. His wife’s name also makes him think of an eagle coming down and wrapping a person in its comforting wings.

Meanwhile his son, Chris, received a name that reflects his creative personality.

Deacon Nahanee said the ceremony “was like bringing our culture back into the church.”

In June he will represent Canada at an annual conference in Rome where he will share a report on local reconciliation efforts.