Indigenous leaders have come out swinging amid the looming adoption of the Quebec government’s controversial proposed linguistic law designed to protect the French language.
“Even when we play by their rules, we are becoming the victims because none of it is being acknowledged, accepted,” Ghislain Picard told reporters on Tuesday.
“With the results we have today, we have a bill that’s being rushed without any consideration for Indigenous people’s rights.”
Bill 96 would impose tougher language requirements in the province, including in the education and business sectors. The sweeping reform aims to strengthen the landmark Charter of the French Language known as Bill 101, which was first adopted in 1977.
With the new linguistic law expected to pass before the national assembly breaks for the summer, Indigenous leaders argue their concerns have been largely ignored by the Quebec government.
Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer explained that Bill 96 is wide-reaching and is “not just an issue that impacts Indigenous youth when it comes to education.”
“The more we looked at this bill, it will have impacts in every sector of our lives as Indigenous people,” she said.
The proposed legislation in its current form goes against the “nation-to-nation” relationship that Sky-Deer wants with Quebec.
“The way this government is conducting itself is very dismissive and it disregards us and our long history and our presence on these lands,” she said.
The chief of Gesgapegiag, a First Nation reserve on the Gaspésie’s south shore, also felt his community’s concerns went unheard. John Martin said the Quebec government needs to listen.
“They have totally ignored everything we have brought forward,” Martin said.
Speaking in the provincial legislature, the group reiterated its demand for Indigenous communities to be exempt from Bill 96.
They also want to have a meeting with Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language who tabled the reform.
The Indigenous leaders were invited to the Quebec legislature by the opposition Liberals and Quebec solidaire. While the Liberals have said they plan to vote against the bill, Quebec solidaire members plan to vote for it.
‘Education is a key component’
One of the main sticking points about the proposed law is that students in English-language junior colleges in Quebec — known as CEGEPs — would have to take up to three additional French classes.
The controversial measure initially required those students to take three program-related courses in French to graduate. After outcry, the amendment was changed to substitute them for three French-language classes.
“If our communities are going to be able to flourish, education is a key component,” Martin said at the news conference.
“But remember also that education has been used as one of the key factors in the assimilation of our people and the destruction of our cultures and the destruction of our languages. And that is why this government needs to sit down and listen to us.”
Jolin-Barrette, for his part, said he heard the concerns from Indigenous communities — but explained CEGEP students who choose to study in English will have to abide by Bill 96 if it passes into law.
“You are in the collegial system. You have to…be able to follow (French) class (at your level) to be able to learn French.”
— with files from Global’s Elizabeth Zogalis, Annabelle Olivier and The Canadian Press
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