June 6, 2022
The NETWORK joins in solidarity with the First Nations Education Council, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, the Kahnawà:ke Education Center, Kahsennénhawe Sky-Deer, (Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke), John Martin (Chief of Gesgapegiag), and many Indigenous community members in expressing our profound opposition to Bill 96, a controversial and discriminatory piece of legislation proposed by the CAQ government and passed in parliament on May 24th, 2022.
We are outraged that Bill 96 has passed despite weeks of protest and calls for an exemption for Indigenous communities living in what is now known as Quebec. We further deplore the provincial government’s preemptive use of the notwithstanding clause in order to avoid constitutional challenges. In addition to being a direct affront to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bill 96 directly contradicts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly in the areas of language, access to medicine, and access to education.
Lived reality in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal
Tiohtià:ke/Montreal is inhabited by a mosaic of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and brings together a multitude of Indigenous languages(1). Although most Indigenous peoples come to Tiohtià:ke/Montreal to seek opportunities, the majority currently face systemic obstacles, most notably, linguistic barriers. This has led to and continues to lead to inequalities in access to services, as well as increased marginalization of Indigenous populations in urban centers(2). We are therefore concerned about the additional systemic barriers arising with Bill 96. It is inevitable that access to services, education and opportunities will become even more disparate and that Indigenous communities will experience major consequences and increased systemic difficulties due to this piece of colonial legislation.
The importance of language and cultural identity
In no way are we opposed to language protection measures – on the contrary, we are well placed to understand their necessity. Language is a pillar of individual and collective identity. It guides the ways in which we understand our relationship with the world around us. Across Quebec, Indigenous communities are engaged in efforts to revive their ancestral languages; languages that were outlawed just a few decades ago under the Indian Act and with the implementation of the residential “school” system.
We would like to remind the provincial government that neither French nor English are the original languages of the unceded territories now called Quebec. Indeed, both French and English are colonial languages that have been imposed on Indigenous peoples, and continue to be imposed today. By declaring the French language as being the only official and common language of Quebec and adopting a coercive approach to its imposition, without exemption for Indigenous communities, we see a continuation of assimilation policies, a perpetuation of cultural genocide, and an attempt to maintain colonial supremacy. In fact, the imposition of Bill 96 discredits all of the provincial government’s attempts to help revitalize Indigenous cultures and directly contradicts all claimed efforts of reconciliation.
At this time, the NETWORK is working closely with other Indigenous groups and organizations to discuss priorities, next steps and exploring ways in which to mobilize.
In the spirit of [re]CONCILI-ACTION,
The NETWORK team
1. STATISTIQUES CANADA, 2016, The Aboriginal languages of First Nations, Inuit and Métis
2. MONTREAL INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY NETWORK, 2018, Analysis of Research Data, Gaps, and Recommendations to inform the development of a strategy for Safety, Wellbeing, and Belonging of Indigenous People Living in (or at risk of) Homelessness in Tiohtià:ke / the Greater Montreal Area