Bill 96 'a true test' of Quebec's commitment to reconciliation: Kahnawake chief

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Quebec’s handling of how Indigenous peoples fit into Bill 96 proposals will be “a true test” of its commitment to reconciliation, according to Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who met with lawmakers Friday to discuss the bill.

Sky-Deer said Indigenous Services Minister Ian Lafreniere and French-Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette “tacitly” confirmed dialogue would continue into next week.

The grand chief announced she had been approached by the ministers on Thursday requesting the virtual meeting, where she was joined by Ghislain Picard, regional chief at the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, and Keskapekiaq Chief John Martin. 

“Everybody keeps saying all this stuff about reconciliation but this will be a true test in terms of their commitment and their willingness to sit with us and hopefully find these solutions that we’re looking for,” she said in a public statement posted to social media.

Those solutions include a “complete and total exemption or carve-out” for Kahnawake residents and other Indigenous peoples in Quebec from Bill 96, which if passed could impact how Quebecers can access services in English.

Bill 96, which is in its final stages of amendments before being voted on outright, is an overhaul to Quebec’s French-language charter.

Kahnawake chiefs, along with other Indigenous leaders, believe the bill’s updated requirements for CEGEP students will create barriers to education.

A recent amendment to Bill 96’s proposal added a requirement that English-language CEGEP students take an additional three French language courses during their studies.

Kahnawake:ronon (people from Kahnawake), commonly speak English and their traditional language: Kanienʼkéha, also known as Mohawk.

Sky-Deer says the previsions in Bill 96, which are aimed at protecting French as Quebec’s majority language, will negatively impact people from Kahnawake’s ability to study outside their community.

“They need to start recognizing that we are our own nations,” she said. “We have our own languages and cultures that have been here since before them.”

On Friday, Sky-Deer expressed further concern on how the bill would affect residents’ experience in “health, social services, [and] justice.”

Sky-Deer encouraged locals to join the protest against Bill 96 scheduled for Saturday morning at Dawson College in Montreal and suggested more demonstrations are possible if their needs aren’t met.

“Different actions are definitely warranted; if we want to do rolling blockades or other demonstrations, [and] handing out information,” she said.

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