Indigenous leaders asked Tuesday to be exempted from Bill 96 which aims, among other things, to impose French courses on students in English-speaking CEGEPs.
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They fear significant impacts on the academic success of Aboriginal students. They held a press briefing Tuesday afternoon at the National Assembly in Quebec to once again demand a meeting with Simon Jolin-Barrette, minister responsible for the French language.
Among the concerns of First Nations leaders, academic success tops the list. “The passage of Bill 96 will force the exodus of our students to other schools outside the province. It is a stunning irony that finally the first occupants of Quebec are forced to go and study outside their territory,” lamented Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
The Chief of the Mi’gmaq Council in Gesgapegiag, in Gaspésie, agrees. For him, Bill 96 is one more obstacle in the educational path of young Aboriginals whose graduation rate is already significantly lower than non-Aboriginals. “At home, we speak Mi’gmaq and we speak English. There are a few people who speak French. But for young people who have studied in English and Mi’gmaq, it takes a monumental effort to be able to pass and then get their credits,” criticizes John Martin, Chief of the Mi’gmaq Council and Gesgapegiag in Gaspésie.
The Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, considers that the bill, which is part of the Legault government’s reform of the Charter of the French language, is another demonstration of a lack of will to really take into account the realities of First Nations communities and even perceives it as another attempt at colonialism.
“The exemption is really what we are looking for but dialogue is the key right now. We hope that the government will show good will so that we do not have to harden our actions”, warns the leader who recalls that the path of reconciliation and healing also passes through respect for nations.
Questioned in the corridors of the National Assembly, the minister responsible for the French language, Simon Jolin-Barrette made a brief statement. “As since 1977, everyone is subject to Law 101,” he said. His colleague and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, tried to be more reassuring. “At the press conference, they said on several occasions that what is important is to promote and respect the languages of the First Nations”.
Quebec Solaire, supports Bill 96 but asks the Legault government to discuss with the First Nations. ‘The Minister has an appointment not to be missed (…) We must protect the French there is no doubt. But we must also protect indigenous languages, which are even more threatened,” said Manon Massé. The Quebec Liberal Party believes there is still time to amend the bill. As for the Parti Québécois, which did not take part in the press briefing, it refuses to apply the term cultural genocide in the context of the reform of Law 101. another one is very open. But we want a nation-to-nation dialogue that starts on other bases than that of cultural genocide for a few French lessons, ”expressed the leader of the PQ, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.
The bill is in its final stages and is expected to pass before the end of the current parliamentary session. Aboriginal leaders are calling for a meeting with Minister Simon Jolin-Barette before its adoption.