Restriction is a form of control based on fear, not on power, and in the case of the Quebec government’s latest decree to try and keep Anglophones from getting an English education, it’s just plain wrong.
The fight for our language is a much bigger one, of course, with less than 4,000 speakers in the world, but Kanien’kéha isn’t a direct government target right now because of our perceived place of weakness. While English is a threat (in the minds of Quebecois in this province, but not so much in reality, with millions of speakers here), and that battle comes with lessons for us to pay attention to, because the time for us to fight in the very same way Anglos are now will come soon enough.
Under Bill 96, which is facing numerous legal challenges with more to come, students are faced with having to fight for the education of their choice because, somehow, forcing a kid to learn French is akin to protecting the French language, according to the Legault government.
Now, those currently in high school are facing eligibility challenges for CEGEP, since this archaic bill passed in May of last year, and if they don’t have a piece of paper that says they can study in English, they’re out of luck.
So here we are, fighting like hell to preserve, promote, and speak our own language, a language that predates French occupation by tens of thousands of years, and we’re witnessing the kind of discrimination Kanien’kéha has experienced for hundreds of years, in real time, in what is supposed to be an enlightened, technologically-advanced civilization.
And that’s the crux of it, Quebec still sees itself as the little brother, while English is the big brother, or father in some eyes, and, well, that kind of revenge is best served cold, we suppose.
But as long as linguistic equality is a pipedream, and the two white brothers continue to fight it out against each other, ignoring us and our needs as they always have, the proverbial clock on the wall will stay stuck in the 1600s.
Fear is an emotion that guides us, that sometimes protects us, but it also turns us into bullies if we one day reach the throne, which is how the CAQ government has been going about its business, casting aside big, bad English students.
Where is the real protection for our language and other Indigenous languages, which are really in fear of being lost, and not just pushed aside in places like Westmount or Baie d’Urfe?
The reality is these parallel linguistic battles concern us and affect us, and we will eventually have to invoke our ancestral rights for all to hear and see, much more vigorously than we’re doing right now.
Kahnawake Survival School was built in response to Bill 101, and that’s great, but what is being done against things like Bill 96, the follow up to that limiting legislation? Not too much, it seems.
We often sit back and wait too long to react, and in the case of our opposition to Bill 96, which came at the 11th hour, we – and that means our leaders sitting in the Indian Act chair – didn’t push hard enough.
Sure, we have our own issues to deal with and it can be tough to take stances on things we don’t fully see as an imminent threat, but eventually these bills, which are meant to promote French while limiting the use of English, come back to bite us in our Kanien’kehá:ka butts.
Those around us affect us and vice versa, so having someone at Council whose sole job is to keep abreast of, predict, react, and sometimes fight bills that could take aim directly at our sovereignty needs to be a priority, not just an afterthought.
Bill 96 affects us as much as others because it’s a bill that limits, that controls, that wants to see you speaking French at home, at all costs, casting linguistic peace and a shared vision of a side-by-side future aside.
We didn’t fight this hard to get this far to just sit in the pot and let it boil.
Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.