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Kahnawake unimpressed with consultations on Quebec Indigenous language law

The Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal's South Shore has joined the growing number of groups against Quebec's proposed Indigenous languages bill, criticizing the CAQ government's "ingenuine consultation process."

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has been critical of François Legault's government's Bill 96 (An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec) since it was tabled and is also objecting to the government's proposed Indigenous languages law.

"Quebec's tactic is to propose legislation in an attempt to mitigate negative impacts from how Bill 96 was forced into law," said MCK Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer. "History has shown that consultation is just a tool external governments use as a checkbox mechanism to say that Indigenous Peoples have been consulted and pass their legislation as planned. While Quebec has assured us that they will not pass this specific legislation if Indigenous peoples are in opposition, we remain cautious, yet hopeful that they stay true to their word."

Quebec said in April that it would consult Indigenous communities and organizations "to support First Nations and Inuit, over the long term, in their drive to ensure that their languages remain visible."

The Minister Responsible for Relations with First Nations and the Inuit Ian Lafrenière and Minister of Culture and Communications Mathieu Lacombe held a first virtual meeting on March 28.

Quebec has since held three consultation sessions (out of four total). The third was at the Hotel Bonaventure on Friday.

Kahnawake's critique of the consultation process and proposed law echoes other groups in the province.

The First Nations Education Council (FNEC) and Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) have issued statements critical of the proposed law.

"It is inconceivable for the government of Quebec to legislate unilaterally on their languages without their consent," read a statement in March from the FNEC.

The statement adds Indigenous people elect their own leaders and "have the legitimacy to adopt their own laws."

"Anything relating to their languages and cultures remains under the purview of First Nations themselves," reads the release. "As a result, the province has an obligation to work differently to demonstrate its respect toward the authority of First Nations and their laws."

Minister Lafrenière says he wants to keep the dialogue open and that he understands the communities' concerns over Quebec's plan to create a bill.

"Let's be honest; people see that as a kind of imposition but it's the opposite. As a government, we want to impose ourselves some regulations, some way of having money aside for culture and to help children that want to attend CEGEP, university," he said.

Sky-Deer met with the Quebec premier in August of last year, hoping to develop a relationship and engage on issues such as language.

MCK Council Chief Jessica Lazare said Friday that before a new law comes into place, other obstacles for her and other communities must come down.

"Our position is that if Quebec wants to make efforts to support our actions to protect and revitalize our (Indigenous) languages, they should start by removing the already existing barriers within their legislation and systems," said Lazare.

The CAQ government announced this month that Indigenous college students will be exempt from Bill 96 requirements to pass French tests to obtain their CEGEP diplomas.

Kahnawake's leaders want all barriers removed, saying that the original introduction of the French Charter in 1977, several challenges have been imposed on Indigenous communities.

"With Bill 96, Amendments to the French Language Charter, these barriers are only further increased," the MCK statement reads. "For decades, First Nations have expressed their disdain over Quebec's French Charter due to the impacts on Indigenous languages and education." Top Stories

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