Indigenous leaders are in Quebec City Tuesday, calling for a “total and resolute” exemption from Bill 96, the province’s language law.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), as well as leaders in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, issued strong statements against their inclusion in the bill, because of requirements for CEGEP students to take at least five courses in French.

Education groups have said that it is another barrier to the education system, when for many Indigenous students, French is their third language.

“This law stems from Quebec aspirations of nationalism and ignores the linguistic, cultural, and educational issues of the nations that precede them. It is indisputably a categorical act by a colonialist government,” said a statement by the AFNLQ.

Leaders say they are concerned Bill 96 would try to assimilate young Indigenous students into Quebec culture, specifically by prioritizing the French language — or that they would leave altogether.

If the bill is passed as planned before the end of this parliamentary session, it will “force an exodus of our students to other schools outside of Quebec,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the AFNQL. “It’s a staggering irony that the first occupants of the territory in Quebec are being forced to study outside their territory, and that is something we find unacceptable.”

On Monday, the Haudenosaunee Longhouse, the traditional Mohawk government in Kahnawake, released a statement saying, “our people will not accept its application over them anywhere within their ancestral lands” and that “if the government of Quebec places any value in developing a relationship … based on peaceful co-existence and mutual respect, this law will certainly deteriorate any hope of reconciliation.”

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There is already an exemption for the First Nations of James Bay and Northern Quebec, but not for other Indigenous communities.

The Indigenous leaders are meeting Tuesday with the Quebec government, joined by representatives from the Liberal and Quebec Solidaire parties, who support the exemption.

“We are no longer at the time of negotiations and settlements. We affirm clearly and with a common voice today our absolute refusal to submit to Law 96 and all other laws infringing on our rights,” said Picard.

The Parti Quebecois said it’s open to dialogue, but the issue has had inflammatory language around it.

“To say that studying in English is okay, but having a few classes in French is such a colonial statement or is cultural genocide, I’m sorry but that’s not a way to start a dialogue between two nations that both have legitimate claims regarding language ,” said PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, disagrees.

“Hundreds of years of colonialism have forced the English language upon us, and this legislation is now an attempt to force another foreign language onto us, in the name of Quebec nationalism. We will not stand for it,” Sky-Deer said.

Bill 96 has already gone through the clause-by-clause revision, so any last minute additions are still possible, but must be voted on.

The bill is expected to be voted on before the end of session, of which there are less than four weeks left.

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