(Quebec) Fearing “devastating” effects and “exodus” of their students, First Nations ask to be exempted from Bill 96 on the protection of the French language. A request brushed aside by the Legault government.
The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), Ghislain Picard, and several chiefs of nations where English is the second language, made their way to the National Assembly on Tuesday to assert their dissatisfaction with Bill 96 is to be passed shortly.
“The passage of Bill 96 will force the exodus of our students to other avenues, other schools outside of Quebec, and it is […] it is a stunning irony that in the end, the first occupants of the territory in Quebec are forced to go and study outside their territory, this is something that we consider completely unacceptable,” said Chief Ghislain Picard.
Bill 96 will require students in English CEGEPs to take three courses taught in French during their college studies. Those who do not have the ability to do so will be able to take three French courses instead. This is in addition to the French as a second language courses already provided for in English-language college programs.
“At home, we speak Mi’gmaq and we speak English”, illustrates the head of the Mi’gmaq council of Gesgapegiag, John Martin. “For young people who have studied in English and Mi’gmaq, it’s a monumental effort, what it takes, to be able to pass and then get their credits [for French lessons],” he said. added, lamenting the way the government is behaving.
Quebec rejected the amendments proposed by the AFNQL during the detailed study of Bill 96.
According to the First Nations, Bill 96 will have impacts on several facets of the development of their community as a lower graduation rate is anticipated. 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 legislation as “cultural genocide”.
Strong words that the Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, approves: “This law cannot be considered other than a deliberate action by a government that actively perpetuates colonialism. Hundreds of years of colonialism imposed the English language on us, and this law is now an attempt to impose another foreign language on us, in the name of Quebec nationalism. We will not tolerate it,” she lamented on Tuesday.
Québec solidaire spokesperson Manon Massé and Liberal MP Greg Kelley, who accompanied the Indigenous leaders on Tuesday, do not believe that Bill 96 perpetuates cultural genocide against First Nations. “I think it’s important for Minister [Simon Jolin-Barrette] to take the time to meet people here, then other communities if necessary, to reassure them that this is not cultural genocide, it’s not what’s happening,” Mr. Kelley argued.
The Liberal Party of Quebec has already confirmed that it will vote against Bill 96 while Quebec solidaire is in favor. “Bill 96, for me, needs to pass,” Ms. Massé said.
For the Parti Québécois, which was not present at the Indigenous leaders’ press conference, the use of the notion of “cultural genocide” is far too strong.
“I am open to dialogue, on behalf of the Parti Québécois, if there are realities for students from Indigenous peoples, if we can promote their success in one way or another, we are very open. But we want a nation-to-nation dialogue that starts on other bases than the notion of cultural genocide for some college French courses, “explained Chief Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.
The Minister responsible for the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, quickly closed the door on Tuesday on the request of First Nations to be exempted from Bill 96. “As since 1977, everyone is subject to the Charter of the French language,” he repeated before question period. “I want to reassure them, nothing changes for the indigenous nations,” added the minister.
The Minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, said Bill 96 “is not the right tool” for the protection and promotion of Indigenous languages, the survival of many of which is threatened. He admitted in the same breath that he had not yet made much progress on this front, saying he wanted to find solutions with the First Nations.
“We will do it together, we will not impose on them,” said Minister Lafrenière. However, the Aboriginal leaders rightly reproach Quebec for “imposing” Bill 96 on them.
Relations between Chief Picard and Minister Lafrenière have been particularly difficult in recent weeks. The AFNQL criticizes the Legault government for having backtracked on its commitment to include the notion of cultural security in the Act respecting health and social services and for not having taken their proposals into account in Bill 15 on the reform of the law on the DYP.
The two parties have not resumed their weekly call – a habit taken at the start of the pandemic – since the election of Chief Picard in January.