Bill 96 would make Indigenous languages ‘second class,’ Nunavik school board head warns

Kativik Ilisarniliriniq president critical of Quebec’s proposed language law that aims to boost use of French throughout province

Sarah Aloupa, president of the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board, said in a statement Friday that she’s concerned Quebec’s Bill 96, legislation strengthening French protections in the province, relegates Indigenous languages to a “second-class position.” (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Madalyn Howitt

As the deadline to debate Quebec’s proposed French-language law approaches, the president of Nunavik’s school board urged Quebec Premier Francois Legault to offer exemptions for Inuit students.

Quebec’s Bill 96 aims to give the French language more prominence across the province by boosting protections for its use in businesses, immigration services, court systems and health care.

However, critics of the bill say it would create barriers for English speakers trying to access education and social services in the province.

Sarah Aloupa, president of the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board representing Nunavik’s 14 communities, said in a statement on the board’s website Friday she would like to see exemptions for all Inuit students enrolled in college programs in Quebec as it relates to the bill’s French language requirements in schools.

“The debate surrounding Bill 96, as it is currently being publicized, misrepresents the demands of Indigenous communities,” she wrote in an open letter to Legault.

“English is not a colonial language we wish to adopt. Indigenous languages are the languages we wish to speak, transmit, revitalize, nurture, and strengthen.”

The bill would cap the total number of students allowed in English-language CEGEP, or general and vocational, schools at 17.5 per cent of the total provincial CEGEP population.

As well, students at English-language CEGEPs would have reduced access to English instruction. They would also have to take extra French-language courses as part of their studies.

Roughly 98 per cent of Inuit in Nunavik speak Inuktitut as a first language, which is also the language of instruction at schools.

English and French are most commonly taught as second languages, meaning Inuit students attending colleges elsewhere in Quebec already have to handle second-language requirements, Aloupa said.

“In reality, Bill 96 will only create two separate college systems, with different requirements for each,” she said.

“Adding additional requirements for college graduation for Nunavik Inuit who have chosen to pursue their college education in English is not acceptable.”

Aloupa said that in the wake of the federal government’s efforts toward truth and reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples, Bill 96 “should be an opportunity to strengthen Indigenous languages, and not to relegate them to a second-class position, or to treat them as a threat to the survival of the French language in Quebec.

“We intend to resist any change that would set back the possibility for the Inuit of Nunavik to participate fully in Quebec society while practicing the Inuit culture and language as it has been transmitted to them for thousands of years in the Arctic territory in Quebec.”

In an emailed response to Nunatsiaq News, Élisabeth Gosselin, secretary of the office of Quebec’s Minister of Justice, said the education requirements in the bill would not affect Inuit in Quebec.

“We would like to reassure the [Indigenous] communities, Bill 96 does not change the rights of First Nations and Inuit,” Gosselin said, in French.

“The bill has been drafted in such a way that none of the provisions contravene the inalienable right of First Nations and Inuit to ensure the maintenance and development of their traditional languages ​​and cultures, as recognized elsewhere by the Charter of the French language since 1977,” she said.

Gosselin added Inuit can continue to receive health and social services in English “if they wish, as is currently the case.”

Aloupa’s statement follows similar positions taken by the First Nations Education Council, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and several First Nations Chiefs in Quebec for the bill to provide an exemption for all Inuit students enrolled in college programs in Quebec.

Bill 96 is expected to come to a vote in Quebec’s National Assembly at the end of May.


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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    Quebec is basically Canada’s Texas. And all know what happened to the Natives in Texas.

    • Posted by Say What? on

      We do?

      More importantly, if Quebec is Texas, what the hell does that make Alberta?

      • Posted by Umingmak on

        Alberta is extremely welcoming to people of all races – and Alberta strongly embraces indigenous culture.

        • Posted by Plastic Tree on

          It really goes to show how much people like to deal in generalizations and stereotypes.

  2. Posted by Truestory on

    Dang. Poor fellow Inuit in Nunavik. 3rd class “citizens” seems like. Nunavikmiut should have more say.

  3. Posted by linda on

    They forget, or don’t know, where they are? Where they stand, where they live, where they work. Their narrative insists on it, to counter present day shifting status quos felt everywhere. The exception to realities, they are not. Perhaps good neighbors/ Relatives will remind them amongst whom they walk. Continued perceived dominion persists? Easy to form allyship between concerned Nations lol. Insistance for dragging past policies and ways of being along into the present and future, is said to be Unwelcome, untenable and intolerable. What it means to be one in the Circle, they’ve yet to understand, to live out. They believe they must remain ahead on the path, when they’ve not found one even leading to equity because they’ve not searched. And then insist on leading *all*. It will not be. They don’t know where they are because they do not know the people. They believe they know where they came from and what they’re made of. They don’t see who they live amongst, on a land that’s never been as they’ve defined, speaking a language that didn’t exist, on said land which they believe they govern. Where are we? ‘I’ll tell you where you are when you look me in the eye, capable of telling me who’s lived here since forever, and who YOU are. Then i will tell you who i am and your place on my land.’

  4. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Interesting to see Nunavimmiut fight for a colonial language, English, against another, French, in a colonial language, English! All that while old stock Quebeckers are fighting for their language that is in precarious conditions in North America against English, a colonial language according to their history.

    The important language is Inuktitut that should be used everywhere through Nunavik instead of any colonial language. This is a basic Indigenous right according to the UNDRIP and international law. Inuit spending their time and resources defending English along with Quebec’s English speaking minority is really awkward.

    • Posted by iThink on

      Serious question for you, why are your posts always written in English, Tulugaq? Your grievance is clear, yet you appear to lack true conviction when you enter the real world of communication. Why is that?

      Rights can only be as strong as the capacity to implement them. Consider the UN Declaration of Human Rights written in the wake of WW2. The UN calls it a milestone, yet it is filled with aspirational statements which remain unfulfilled and offer no recourse to correction or justice.

      For example; article 3 states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” We know this ‘right’ is almost constantly violated in our world.

      We take the above rights claim seriously insofar as it is a statement of how we want the world to be—it is an aspiration—but it doesn’t necessarily reflect our reality nor our political will in any meaningful way.

      Why not?

      Because it aspires to something beyond our capacity to implement. Put simply, we don’t have the ability to make it true.

      As I see it, there’s little difference between this and the implementation of an Inuktitut speaking government. What needs to be worked on is capacity building.

      As a critic of colonial languages, what ideas do you have to support that effort?

  5. Posted by Ken on

    Don’t make the same mistake as Nunavut, making Inuktitut weaker by continuing to water down the language act, no plans to make Inuktitut a working language or to be taught in our schools.
    No curriculum, no resources to teach Inuktitut, our government continues to make it a third class language.
    Don’t take it like how we just took it here in Nunavut, fight for it and demand better.

    • Posted by Teacher on

      It’s too late Ken…. KI already is weakening Inuktitut in primary grades and putting more French and English. This was decided already before bill 96.

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