Kanesatake echoes Bill 96 concerns

·5 min read

Indigenous leaders and educators continue to sound the alarm regarding Bill 96, An Act respecting the French language, the official and common language of Quebec.

“The bill is one of the most disappointing pieces of legislation that has come along since the initial Bill 101,” said Scott Traylen, the director of Education at the Kanesatake Education Center.

“The harm it is going to have on Indigenous students is alarming. It is just so detrimental in so many different ways and punitive in so many different ways with regard to education.”

After weeks of pushback and criticism from Indigenous communities, Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister responsible for the French language, announced that students who don’t have the required language skills to take three program-related courses in French will alternatively be allowed to take three French-language classes instead.

“It is really somewhat overwhelming for many students and serves as a major impediment not only to their academic success in CEGEP but the impact that it will have on their potential to follow in disciplines and programs that they might want to take in university,” said the director.

“There is a two-fold effect there concerning their academic success and their potential to be admitted into programs because of marks.”

The bill, which was tabled in May 2021, will also freeze the number of students allowed to attend subsidized English-speaking colleges and the number of students in non-subsidized, private colleges offering education in English.

Moreover, students in one-year college certificates in the anglophone and francophone educational institutions must have “conditional knowledge of the French language” to receive their certificate.

“It’s a fundamental right to go to elementary school and high school, and some of our youth may sometimes require additional support like speech therapists and pedological aides to support the teachers,” said Denis Gros-Louis, the director general of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC).

“And according to Bill 96, if you want to practice one of those professional orders in Quebec, you have to write your exam in French. They are being denied the opportunity to practice even though they are from our communities because they don’t speak French fluently.”

Essentially, Indigenous communities will be denied access to specialized professional services in their schools that are critical to the development of some of their students.

The FNEC is a network that represents 22 First Nations throughout Quebec. In March, the FNEC Chief Education Committee sent a letter to Education minister Jean-Francois Roberge requesting a meeting to discuss exemptions for First Nations students. No updates have been provided on the status of the request.

The Ministry of Education told The Eastern Door that the government of Quebec is sympathetic to the concerns of certain organizations regarding the academic success of Indigenous students.

“The National Table on the educational success of Indigenous students has identified work priorities, among which is the place of Indigenous languages in education,” said Bryan St-Louis, who is responsible for media relations at the Ministry of Education.

“The ministry has documented these priorities and actions and is collaborating with the Secretariat for Indigenous Affairs so that they are brought to the government plan.”

According to St-Louis, the Ministry of Higher Education (MHE) is working tirelessly to have Indigenous people recognized as rights holders, and it is trying to find mechanisms or means so that Indigenous students can also be recognized as rights holders.

“For its part, the MHE supports accessibility to post-secondary studies for Indigenous students,” he said. Furthermore, St-Louis said that the MHE is aware that out of 11 First Nations, only three use French as their first language and that for many Indigenous students, French is a third language.

“This measure is going to impede 200 of our students very significantly. This bill will squash the hope and the potential of 200 of our native language speakers or that speak English as a second language,” said Gros-Louis.

According to the director general, the FNEC has also requested meetings with minister Jolin-Barrette, but thus far, those requests have been denied.

“We don’t understand why, in 2022, as we celebrate 10 years of recognition of Indigenous languages by the United Nations across the world, that one small province decides to go against the wave and not accept the amendments proposed,” he said.

Gros-Louis explained that Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, along with chief John Martin of Gesgapegiag, proposed amendments to the bill that would enable Indigenous students to use either English or French as a second language and be assessed accordingly.

The provisions would be similar to what the Inuit, the Cree and the Naskapi negotiated for their students in the 70s.

“It’s unfair, and I don’t understand why a government is maintaining pressure and trying to sabotage the educational path of our youth,” said Gros-Louis.

Furthermore, the director general believes that the message the bill conveys to First Nations is detrimental and promotes colonialism and linguistic assimilation.

“We don’t understand why this government is using legislation to thwart all of our efforts to protect our culture and our languages, which are key and unique to our nations,” he said.

Traylen said that parents in Kanesatake feel a sense of urgency about Bill 96 and have requested more information about the impacts it will have on their children’s education and future.

“It’s just a major impediment and another barrier for Indigenous students to pursue post-secondary studies,” he said.

“The greatest fear is that it would lead to them dropping out, and even worse, that we have a brain drain of young adults leaving the province to pursue their education elsewhere.”

The director believes that at the very least Indigenous students should be exempt and said that a retraction from the government - although unlikely - would be the best possible solution.

“Otherwise, it will have a devastating effect,” said Traylen.

Over the last few weeks, he has been meeting with Mohawk Council of Kanesatake chiefs on the Education portfolio to discuss some of the next possible steps.

“There is a sense of urgency here. The chiefs are looking at what types of initiatives would be most effective because right now the big concern is wanting to bring this whole issue with regard to Indigenous students to the forefront.”

marisela.amador88@gmail.com

Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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