Quebec says it will not change Bill 96 to exempt indigenous youth from having to take extra French courses at CEGEP, despite growing calls from First Nations leaders who say their efforts to rebuild their languages ​​and cultures are in danger.

Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who held a news conference at the National Assembly on Tuesday along with Chief Ghislain Picard of the Quebec-Labrador Assembly of First Nations and Gesgapegiag First Nation chief John Martin, said that his community would carry out protest actions until they felt heard. .

“Any goodwill gesture at this time on behalf of the government will go a long way,” Sky-Deer told reporters.

Sky-Deer, Picard and Martin are among the many First Nations leaders who have denounced the clause in Quebec’s proposed revision of the French Language Charter that would force students attending CEGEPs in English to take more courses. of French as a second language.

Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer spoke at the National Assembly on Tuesday, saying her community will continue to push for an exemption from Bill 96. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

The bill could be adopted by the majority of the Avenir Québec Coalition this week, as the legislation has undergone a series of modifications and is ready for other political parties to express their opinion on it.

Leaders have repeatedly asked to meet with government officials to request a waiver for young people from indigenous English-speaking communities, who have been learning their language first, with English as a second language and French as a third.

They say the government has shown little sympathy for their cause.

“To put another burden, of a third language so that we have to learn and be proficient, when we’re trying to revitalize our indigenous language, after all these Indian day schools, Indian residential schools and all the things that happened to our people, it’s a challenge,” said Sky-Deer, whose community is English- and Kanien’kehá-speaking.

While the press conference was taking place at the National Assembly, Kahnawake students staged a march against the bill.

Picard said the Quebec-Labrador Assembly of First Nations made a presentation to a legislative committee on the bill and proposed several amendments “to no avail.”

“Even when we play by their rules, we are becoming victims because none of it is acknowledged,” Picard said.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the Charter of the French Language, says that the language laws in Quebec must apply to everyone. (Frederic Bissonnette/Radio-Canada)

Simon Jolin-Barrette, who introduced the bill and is the minister responsible for the French language, said Tuesday that there were no plans to make exemptions.

“Since 1977, Bill 101 has applied to everyone in Quebec and Bill 101 will continue Bill 96 to apply to everyone,” Jolin-Barrette said, referring to the Charter of the French Language, which is passed into law 45 years ago. Bill 96 aims to update the charter.

Chief of the Gesgapegiag First Nation John Martin said the original law had increased dropout rates in his Mi’kmaq community.

“It makes it very difficult for our students to succeed in high school and even more difficult now if they pass high school and make it to CEGEP,” Martin said.

Bill 96 cannot protect indigenous languages: minister

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said he met with First Nations leaders on Monday but his government’s line remains the same.

“We need to protect and promote French in Quebec,” Lafrenière said. “Let’s find the right tool to protect and promote different languages. Bill 96 is not the right one.”

But First Nations leaders in the National Assembly said Tuesday that the Quebec government’s role is not to protect indigenous languages, but to respect their communities’ right to govern themselves.

Kahnawake Elder Ka’nahsohon Kevin Deer wore a double-row Wampum belt at a news conference at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

“What the government should be doing is recognizing and respecting indigenous languages ​​and cultures that have been here longer than Quebec,” Sky-Deer said.

A Kahnawake elder and knowledge keeper, Ka’nahsohon Kevin Deer, was part of the group that held the press conference. He held up a two-row Wampum belt and said it was important to remind Quebecers of its meaning.

“Your ancestors and our ancestors agreed that we would follow three principles of peace, friendship and respect,” Deer said.

“We are still here today. Our ceremonies, our languages, our creation stories, everything that makes us unique in the world, just like Quebec. They speak of its distinction. Well, we are too.”

Sky-Deer, the Grand Chief of Kahnawake, said she would like to see a full exemption from House Bill 96 for indigenous peoples because several other provisions in the proposed legislation could harm members of her community, such as those related to small companies and court proceedings.

echoes of the past

Meanwhile, at the protest, 11th grader Cash Rice-Rossetti held up a banner as hundreds marched from the Kahnawake Survival School, a high school established in 1978 in reaction to Bill 101.

“Our language is already repressed enough. We don’t have many first language speakers,” said Cash, who says French is taught as a third language at his school.

Cash Rice-Rossetti, an 11th grader at the Kahnawake Survival School, said he was considering leaving Quebec to study after high school because of Bill 96. (CBC)

He said that he was considering studying outside the province after high school.

“If this law passes, there may be no options for me in Quebec.”

Kahnawake Survival School’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to produce proud and self-reliant Kanien’kehá:ka youth through a powerful curriculum based on Kanien’kehá language, beliefs and traditions: ka”.

Robin Delaronde, the education director of the Kahnawà:ke Education Center, was one of 300 high school students who walked out of his school in 1978 to protest Bill 101.

“It is so worrying, after all these years, to think that we have to fight once again against the impositions that are imposed on us,” said Delaronde, as he marched with students on Tuesday.

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