Kahnawake leaders meet with Quebec premier on Indigenous language promotion
After a nearly three-month political silence, elected representatives from the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake were in Quebec City on Tuesday to meet with the province's premier and his minister.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said at the end of May that the council was suspending political contact with Francois Legault's CAQ government over Bill 96 until he met with them and found a "substantive solution" regarding the bill's overhaul of the French language charter.
On Tuesday, Sky-Deer, along with Council Assistant Grand Chief Tonya Perron, met with Legault and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere to talk language, culture and a new political framework between the two governments.
"We talked about sharing of this land and the acknowledgment of the Indigenous people who were here first, and we have to find a way to coexist peacefully, respectfully, and our issues are equally important," said Sky-Deer. "Let's have some conversation and dialogue about the things that are impacting us."
It is the first time since being elected that the premier has met an MCK Grand Chief, having never met with Sky-Deer or former MCK Grand Chief, the late Joe Norton.
"It's the beginning of a new relationship," said Lafreniere. "We established ground rules of how we're going to work together and three important priorities."
Lafreniere said Quebec will work with Kahnawake on building its new cultural centre, which has been in various stages of planning for half a decade, in addition to providing assistance with language and culture protection and promotion. As well, groundwork is being developed for how the two governments will work together.
Sky-Deer was positive about Legault's words and will now wait for action to back up those words.
"Actions speak louder than words. Moving forward, I will be able to decide the merits of today's meeting based on the actions that follow," she said.
Protests were held in the community against Bill 96, and Sky-Deer met with Quebec ministers earlier in May, hoping to confirm that Indigenous communities would be exempt from the law.
She was intent to meet Legault before Oct. 3.
"The timing of it was really important - that it happen now before the election - and the meeting did go well," said Sky-Deer. "Where we go forward was very important, and we made some commitments about how we're going to engage together."
Sky-Deer said it was important to inform Legault about Kahnawake's language - Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk) - and what was being done to ensure its continued revitalization. Talk of a new piece of legislation with Indigenous languages at its core is on now on the table, with consultations planned in the near future.
"We feel, ultimately, that it is our responsibility to promote and enhance Indigenous languages and cultures, but the government can be a resource and an ally to help us," said Sky-Deer.
"I'm extremely happy with this meeting," said Lafreniere. "This is important for both of us - the grand chief and myself... Let's start on that new relationship."