The public consultations on Indigenous languages being held starting May 1 by the Minister responsible for First Nations and Inuit Relations, Ian Lafrenière, might seem like a good idea, since they aim to propose a bill to protect our ancestral languages. It is, however, a “false good idea”, since the process is carried out in defiance of our inherent rights to self-determination and self-government.
This exercise implemented without having consulted us beforehand leads us (once again!) to face the facts: the Government of Quebec continues to ignore the Councils of the First Nations and to act without taking into account our rights. and the linguistic reality of our peoples. And this, despite our numerous attempts to be heard, despite our representations to the Minister, despite our public outings where we expressed our concerns, despite our many recommendations officially submitted to the Government of Quebec and, above all, despite the fact that we form governments in their own right with the responsibility to legislate with respect to our languages.
The phrase “Nation to Nation” should not be meaningless. If Quebec wants to respect it, it should agree not to legislate without the agreement of the governments of our Nations.
This is why the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), together with the First Nations Education Council (FNEC), has decided to file a legal challenge before the Superior Court of Quebec regarding the Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French, adopted on May 25, 2022.
Bill 96, now called Bill 14, infringes the generic rights of Aboriginal peoples. This law contributes directly to aggravating the obstacles to the success and academic and professional pursuit of Aboriginal learners.
Our legal challenge targets 14 articles of the Charter of the French language. These 14 articles infringe upon Aboriginal rights to self-determination and self-government in education, as well as First Nations languages and cultures.
Moreover, if Quebec wants to be an ally in the protection of the ancestral languages of our First Nations, it does not need to legislate. It can simply provide the resources that are needed through the various ministries or organizations concerned, such as the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications. As far as we are concerned, Minister Lafrenière’s adventure is a public relations operation, a “smoke show” that undermines our inherent right to self-determination.
By virtue of this right, last July, the FNEC signed a regional education agreement with the federal government. This agreement includes funding of $4.6 million per year dedicated to Indigenous languages and cultures in preschool, elementary and secondary education in FNEC member schools. This right to language is an Aboriginal right recognized and confirmed by Section 5 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and one of the reasons motivating First Nations to challenge the public consultations on Aboriginal languages organized by Minister Lafrenière.
We repeat this and will always defend the right to self-determination of our peoples, as well as the right to self-government in education, a prerogative of First Nations and not of the provincial government.
We would like to point out that our approach in no way calls into question the importance of French for the people of Quebec. We all recognize the vital importance that the French language has for the Quebec identity. In the same way that we hope that Quebecers recognize the importance of our languages for the identity specific to each of our Nations.
It is time for the government of Quebec to listen to reason and stop its methods from another century and work with the First Nations in a true relationship of equals, Nation to Nation.