Just a day after Indigenous leaders spoke out against Bill 96 at the national assembly, Kahnawake’s grand chief met with the minister responsible for Indigenous affairs.
With Bill 96 expected to pass in the coming weeks, Indigenous leaders were pushing for a meeting with lawmakers sooner than later to discuss the bill and its consequences for their communities.
On Friday, Grand Chief Kahsennanhawe Sky-Deer, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard and Gesgapegiag Chief John Martin had a one-hour virtual meeting with both Minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs Ian Lafrenière and French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.
“When we initially started hearing about the bill, it was about education impacts,” said Skye Deer. “This meeting definitely had the space and opportunity to present different areas such as health, social services, justice, politics, etc.”
Indigenous communities fear the bill will further assimilate them into Quebec culture, impede Indigenous student success, or even potentially drive students out of the province.
“I really highlighted our long-standing history here,” said Skye Deer. “The fact that we have our own language and cultures that pre-dates and pre-exists.”
She says the meeting was a good start but adds that there are more discussions that need to take place.
“We asked for some commitments in terms of moving forward, maybe even establishing a working group, so that we could look at solutions.”
Picard said the one-hour meeting was a good gesture but not enough to address all their concerns.
“One hour is one hour,” said Picard. “It’s very limited in terms of providing our side to really express where 96 is creating concerns and potential problems.”
Picard added he isn’t sure the Quebec government is willing to compromise.
“When the minister says we can find administrative measures or arrangements so that it doesn’t impact First Nations communities, it’s not going far enough,” he said.
Skye Deer agreed. She said the government has always had a dismissive and arrogant attitude when it comes to First Nations rights.
“I am hopeful that we can find something moving forward because if not, it’s going to be a hot summer.”
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the Indigenous affairs minister writes that Lafrenière and Jolin-Barrette met with Martin, Sky Deer and Picard Friday morning.
“They heard the concerns expressed by the Indigenous nations and we reiterate that the government has the success and well-being of young Indigenous people at heart,” the spokesperson wrote.
“We also invested nearly $20 million in November to promote the success and perseverance of Aboriginal students.
“The government is committed to pursuing efforts and working with the Indigenous nations to find concrete solutions to the difficulties they are experiencing. However, the Bill 96 is not the right vehicle to deal with these issues.”
It’s unclear when a final vote on the bill will happen but it’s expected before the end of the spring parliamentary session. Indigenous leaders say they will do what it takes to get their exemption.