(Quebec) First Nations, fearing the “devastating” impact and “exodus” of their students, are asking to be exempted from Bill 96 protecting the French language. A motion brushed aside by the Legault government.
Posted at 1:49 p.m
Updated at 4:09 p.m
Quebec and Labrador First Nations Assembly (AFNQL) chief Ghislain Picard and several chiefs of nations where English is the second language made their way to the National Assembly on Tuesday to voice their dissatisfaction with Bill 96 shortly over.
“Passing Bill 96 will force the exodus of our students down other routes, to other schools outside of Quebec, and that is […] It is a startling irony that the first residents of the Quebec Territory ended up being forced to study outside their territory, something we find totally unacceptable,” Chief Ghislain Picard began.
Bill 96 requires students in English CEGEPs to take three courses in French during their college studies. Those who are unable to do so can take three French courses instead. This is a complement to the French as a second language courses already provided in English college programmes.
“At home we speak Mi’gmaq and we speak English,” said John Martin, head of the Gesgapegiag Mi’gmaq Council. “For young people who have studied English and Mi’gmaq, it takes a tremendous effort to pass and then get their credits [pour les cours de français] ‘ he added, lamenting the government’s behavior.
Quebec rejected the changes proposed by the AFNQL during the detailed investigation of Bill 96.
Changes proposed by the AFNQL
- Implement the same principles of language of instruction as those applicable to Cree and Inuit students in Chapter VIII of the Charter, and apply to all First Nations college and university policies on the use and quality of the French language in Chapter VIII.1 of Quebec to .
- Eliminate legal formalities in the Education Act that require First Nations students to pass the standardized French test to graduate, even if they are native English speakers or have received tuition in their native language.
- Explore access to English speaking education professionals to enable these English speaking students to provide services in our schools.
A “cultural genocide,” according to the leaders
According to First Nations, Bill 96 will impact multiple facets of their community’s development as a lower completion rate is expected. The executive director of the First Nations Education Council, Denis Gros-Louis, said a few days ago in English-language media that he saw the legal text as “cultural genocide”.
Strong words endorsed by Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer: “This legislation can only be viewed as a conscious act by a government actively pursuing colonialism. Hundreds of years of colonialism forced the English language on us, and this law is now an attempt to force another foreign language on us in the name of Quebec nationalism. We will not tolerate that,” she complained on Tuesday.
Québec Solidaire co-speaker Manon Massé and Liberal MP Greg Kelley, who accompanied Indigenous leaders on Tuesday, do not believe Bill 96 will continue the cultural genocide against First Nations. “I think it’s important for the minister [Simon Jolin-Barrette] taking the time to meet people here, then other communities if necessary, to reassure them that this is not cultural genocide, that this is not happening,” Mr Kelley said.
The Quebec Liberal Party has already confirmed that it will vote against Bill 96, while Quebec Solidaire is in favour. “Bill 96 needs to be passed, I think,” said Ms.me Dimensions.
For the Parti Québécois, who were absent from the Aboriginal leaders’ press conference, the use of the term “cultural genocide” is far too strong.
“I am open to dialogue on behalf of the Parti Québécois, if there are realities for Indigenous students, if we can encourage their success in one way or another, we are very open. But we want a nation-to-nation dialogue that begins on different grounds than the notion of cultural genocide for some college French courses,” said Chief Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.
No exception, replies Quebec
French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette was quick to shut the door on Tuesday’s First Nations request to be exempted from Bill 96. “Everyone has been subject to the Charter of the French Language since 1977,” he repeated before Question Time. “I would like to reassure you that nothing will change for the Aboriginal nations,” added the Minister.
For his part, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière reiterated that Bill 96 is “not the right instrument” for protecting and promoting Aboriginal languages, of which the survival of many languages is threatened. In the same breath, he acknowledged that he had not made much progress on this front and said he wanted to work with First Nations to find solutions.
“We will do it together, we will not impose anything on them,” said Minister Lafrenière. However, Aboriginal leaders are right to criticize Quebec for “imposing” Bill 96 on them.
Relations between Chief Picard and Minister Lafrenière have been particularly difficult in recent weeks. AFNQL criticizes the Legault government for backing out of its commitment to include cultural safety in the Health and Human Services Act and for failing to include its proposals in Bill 15 to reform the DYP Act.
The two parties have not resumed their weekly call – a habit early in the pandemic – since Chief Picard’s election in January.
With Tommy Chouinard and Charles Lecavalier, The press