Indigenous leaders say Quebec language bill is colonial and paternalistic

The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, criticizes Bill 96 during a press conference on May 10, 2022, at the Legislative Assembly of Quebec.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Indigenous leaders in Quebec say the government’s French language bill is destructive, paternalistic and could jeopardize the survival of First Nations languages.

Bill 96 would push Indigenous students to pursue higher education outside the province, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, told reporters in Quebec City on Tuesday.

“It is a stunning irony that the first inhabitants of the land in Quebec are forced to study outside their territory; this is something we find unacceptable,” Picard told the Legislative Assembly.

Bill 96 makes several changes to Quebec’s language of signature law, known as Bill 101. If passed, it would strengthen rules on the use of French in the workplace, the civil service and the judiciary. The bill would also require students at English-language junior colleges in the province to take three additional courses in French.

John Martin, chief of the Mi’kmaq council of Gesgapegiag, in the Gaspé, said many indigenous communities were historically required to speak English and that requiring young people to master a third language – French – would make it more difficult for them to succeed. . .

“If our communities are going to be able to flourish, education is key, but also remember that education has been used as one of the key factors in assimilating our people and destroying our cultures and the destruction of our languages, and that is why this government needs to sit up and listen to us,” Martin said.

“This is a destructive bill. It is a continuation of the type of colonialist, paternalistic and extinguishing activities that successive governments have carried out since their establishment in these territories.

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, located near Montreal, said the bill could also impact access to justice.

“We don’t want to see this bill go forward without any kind of exemption or consideration for Indigenous peoples, our languages, our cultures that have been here since time immemorial,” she said. . “The way this government is behaving is very dismissive and ignoring us and our long history and presence in these lands.”

Sky-Deer said Indigenous leaders wanted a meeting with Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the legislation. She said if the minister does not meet with indigenous leaders, community members will have to resort to other measures.

Aboriginal leaders have been invited to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec by the opposition Liberals and Quebec solidaire. As the Liberals announced their intention to vote against the bill, Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Masse said her party was considering voting for it.

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