[Éditorial de Robert Dutrisac] Bill 96, French and Indigenous Peoples

In 1977, First Nations representatives strongly opposed Bill 101, which demanded that their members be exempted from the application of the articles relating to education in French. Today they are repeating the same demand regarding the reform of the Charter of the French Language that the Legault government wants to implement with Bill 96.

In its preamble, the Charter of the French Language affirms that the National Assembly recognizes the right of First Nations and Inuit to preserve and develop their language and culture of origin. In addition, the Charter does not directly apply to Indian reservations, whose schools are funded by the federal government.

The only change made to the languages ​​taught by Bill 96 relates to English CEGEPs. Mutually, without mentioning the First Nations (and without having been consulted beforehand), the bill affects the Aboriginal people whose first language is English – or the second language, after their ancestral language.

At the suggestion of the Liberal Party, it foresees the addition of three French or French courses to the English CEGEP. Remember that the successful completion of two French as a second language courses is already required. Likewise, in order to obtain a high school diploma from an English school, one must also obtain a pass in French as a second language. An equivalent requirement for English as a second language applies to students in the French network, including the Aboriginal people attending it.

Not only does the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador reject the amendment introduced by Bill 96, but it also demands that French cease to be imposed as a third language on Aborigines in the English school system or on those, such as the Innu and the Atikamekw, who who goes to French school and whose French, you could say, is the first colonial language spoken.

For Anglicized Aborigines, “French is a foreign language,” as Chief John Martin, head of the Gesgapegiag Micmacs, said during public consultations on the bill; learning them, both in secondary school and in CEGEP, is a “systemic barrier” and the cause of many young people drop out. However, we have never heard the Innu, who study in French schools and do not have access to English schools, complain that they, like all other students, have to take two courses of English as a second language at CEGEP.

English is not seen as a barrier, but as the colonial language we want to adopt: the indigenous representatives demand access to education in their ancestral language and in English.

The preservation and enhancement of Aboriginal languages ​​and cultures is certainly a major issue that would have had special attention. According to Bill 101, nothing prevents the use of ancestral languages ​​in Aboriginal education, but it is far from being generalized. However, Bill 96 does not address the issue of the Aboriginal languages ​​in any way. The CAQ government could have at least labeled them “first languages,” as suggested by Daniel Turp.

But the fundamental issue is First Nations self-government. In its reference to the subject of Federal Law C-92 on Youth Protection and Indigenous Peoples, the Court of Appeals took it upon itself to amend Canada’s constitutional framework by laying the groundwork for a third order of government that will largely train — or we like find or not – with Quebec’s skills. The reasoning that applies to youth protection can be extended to education.

It should be noted that the Charter of the French Language already provides for an exemption for the Crees, the Inuit and the Naskapi as a result of the James Bay Agreement. These countries already have their own school boards.

Although Quebec has appealed the Supreme Court reference, the evolution toward self-government of the First Nations, enhanced by the introduction into Canadian law of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, seems as inevitable as it is desirable. If we rely on the reference, Quebec would not lose its prerogatives in the field of education: when all Aboriginal countries manage their schools, the compatibility of their programs with those of the Quebec school system must be guaranteed, including for teaching French, and the requirements should be essentially the same.

All this will have to be the subject of negotiated agreements between countries. However, Bill 96 was not designed with this dimension in mind. The Quebec government, once at the forefront of Aboriginal rights, has an interest in paving the way for this development.

To be seen in video

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