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'Insidious' Quebec Bill 96 Threatens Indigenous Children's Future, Kahnawake Mohawk Leaders Say

"We cannot sit idly by as the rights of our people are threatened."

MTL Blog, Staff Writer
Two people walk down a street in Kahnawake, behind a stop sign written in English and Mohawk.​

Two people walk down a street in Kahnawake, behind a stop sign written in English and Mohawk.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has joined forces with school and community groups to express outrage at the Quebec government's push for new French-language legislation. A community meeting on Monday evening will determine what action the Longhouse takes in response to Bill 96. The new law would force Indigenous students to take an increasing number of French courses within the next two years and be tested for proficiency at the same level as native speakers.

"Our children are now expected to be fluent in three languages? We already have students who are struggling in CEGEP and that's without the new language regulations. We're concerned that the futures of many of our kids will be closed off," Joe Delaronde, spokesperson for the Mohawk Band Council in Kahnawake, told MTL Blog.

English is the community's primary language, along with traditional Mohawk language Kanien'kéha. But Bill 96 "gives the French language more importance over other rights recognized in provincial legislation," he said.

Many in the community are frustrated that the law oversteps Kahnawake's sovereignty, especially when it is already in the process of trying to revive its traditional language.

"This law has insidious intent… While we usually remain 'in our canoe' about matters of outside governments' laws, Kahnawake cannot sit idly by as the rights of our people are threatened," said Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer in a statement.

Indigenous leaders have reached out to the Quebec government to address the issue but have been largely dismissed.

"Education Minister Jolin-Barrette and his government have clearly chosen paternalistic rhetoric over the academic success of our children, and have refused to revoke assimilationist charter provisions maintained in Bill 96. Our students are the innocent victims of legislation that compromises the languages, cultures, and traditions of First Nations in Quebec,” said Denis Gros-Louis, Director General of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC) in a press release.

"By imposing French proficiency requirements and regulations equivalent to those applied to native French speakers, [Jolin-Barrette] is preventing First Nations students from furthering their education and jeopardizing their future."

The education group said Bill 96 not only ignores the rights of First Nations children but undermines Indigenous languages and school systems.

"The Quebec government can't put themselves in a bubble and say that they consulted with us. They did not consult. There needs to be real, meaningful dialogue or it could problematic," said Delaronde.

"That's not a threat. When people are upset they will say and do things that are unpleasant."

He said the government's lack of response to calls from the community is reminiscent of systemic racism.

"The government refuses to accept that it exists. They need to open their eyes and open their ears, engage properly, and look for ways to address this serious problem," he said.

The Mohawk Band Council plans to take political action, but he said the final decision of what course to take will come down to community members.

"English-speaking Indigenous people in Quebec are at a great disadvantage here and the government should make some exceptions to the law immediately that will calm the waters and allow us to move forward with dialogue on other issues," said Delaronde.

"It's very doable, but if they want to put their foot down it could be problematic," he said.

A community meeting about Bill 96 is scheduled at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Kahnawake on Monday evening at 7 p.m.

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