Open letter to Premier Pauline Marois on Bill 101’s impact on languages of Onkwehón:we / Indigenous People

Open letter to Premier Pauline Marois on Bill 101’s impact on languages of Onkwehón:we / Indigenous People

February 20, 2013
Re: Follow-up of letter of request for a meeting dated October 22, 2012
To: Premier Pauline Marois

Dear Premier Marois:

This letter is a follow-up to a letter dated last October 22, 2012, requesting a meeting with you and your Ministers regarding the impact of Bill 101 on Indigenous languages. While I have called your office several times and received confirmation of the receipt of my letter, I have yet to receive a response to my request for a meeting.

I am therefore compelled once again to write you to request a meeting in order to discuss the impact of Bill 101 on Indigenous languages. I would also like to respectfully request that several of your Ministers whose files are relevant to language and education, be included in this meeting.

The major concern we have is in regards to your statement following your election in September in which you stated that you would be amending Bill 101 to have an even stricter enforcement of the French language. While we empathize with the need of Francophone Quebecers to protect French within the province, it is necessary to inform you that language laws in Canada, have long had a negative impact on Indigenous languages since the onset of the Indian Residential Schools system.

It is important to stress that Indigenous peoples have a right to provide education to their children and youth in their own languages. This right also includes the teaching of our history and cultures and is reinforced in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN Declaration is one which the Parti Québeçois endorsed in a 2009 press conference which included myself as then president of Femmes Autochtones du Québec and Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador. It is hoped that you as Premier of Québec continue to endorse this historic international human rights instrument for Indigenous peoples’ rights.

Education, language and culture are amongst the many articles of the UNDRIP which promote and protect the self-determining rights of Indigenous peoples and which constitute the minimum human rights standards for Indigenous Peoples. The support of the UN Declaration by the Parti Quebeçois is deeply appreciated, but the next step is its implementation and this requires that all state actors, including provincial and territorial governments to participate in its realization. The implementation of the Declaration requires dialogue and political will based upon trust and fairness. The UN Declaration is the framework for reconciliation based upon an equal partnership for the peace and progressive evolution of society.

It is important to stress that Indigenous peoples are not minorities as we do not share the same history of the Indian Residential School system and of colonization, with that of minorities.

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination and as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in Article 13:

“1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and person.”

UNESCO has stated that Indigenous languages in Canada are the most endangered in the world. As the First Peoples of this land, our languages have consistently been marginalized in the education curriculum and been forced aside in order for our community members to work within Québeçois and Canadian society.

As Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of UNESCO, stated that ”.. languages are key to cultural identity.. linguistic diversity is closely linked to cultural diversity, and languages play an important role in the fight against poverty, hunger and disease.” Indigenous languages in particular, he says, are crucial to preserving indigenous knowledge.

I believe we share a common passion for the protection of our respective languages. It is time to change the status quo of colonialism that has attacked the identity of Indigenous peoples for centuries and instead, work together for the enrichment and well-being of society. Indigenous peoples collective human rights and freedoms are important in our survival, dignity and well being. I hope that this vision of justice is one that can be shared by the Government of Québec and that we can discuss this important issue in the near future.

I look forward to your response and trust that our meeting may be arranged within the next month at your office in Montreal.

EllenGabrielWith sincerity and respect

Ellen Gabriel

Kontinonhstats – Mohawk Language Custodians Association

cc. Minister Élizabeth Larouche, Secrétariat des Affaires Autochtones
Minister Maka Kotto, Ministère de la Culture et des Communications
Minister Marie Malavoy, Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport

Originally published on this blog.



In another post on the same blog, the author states:

It is an interesting fact that much of Quebec’s cultural identity originates from Indigenous peoples’ culture: the various festivals like maple syrup, strawberry, corn – ”Festival du blé d’Inde”, all taken from Iroquois culture. I am proud of this fact as these are precious food sources that our ancestors cultivated and shared with the first Europeans who arrived on our lands a few hundred years ago. Unfortunately, not everyone readily accepts this fact as it has been my experience that there remains an unhealthy resistance to this fact by some too blinded by racism and hatred to welcome Indigenous peoples contribution to this sociey.

and continues:

Onkwehón:we are their own nation’s citizens, we are not Quebecois as we have never surrendered our citizenship to our nations nor surrendered our lands, at least most Indigenous peoples haven’t. But this is not meant as an insult to Quebec or Canada, but a reminder that Indigenous peoples have self-determining rights, we have our own languages, our own lands and territories, we have our own customary laws. The only difference is that we live under colonial laws and policies that maintain their oppression through laws, policies and ignorance; threatening our very identity as Indigenous peoples. These colonial vestiges oblige us to be educated in colonial languages in order for us to “fit in” and are reminiscent of the motto for the Indian Residential School; to “beat the Indian out of the Indian”!

UNESCO has stated “…that in Indigenous languages are most threatened in Canada.” UNESCO has compared the loss of Indigenous languages having a negative impact on biodiversity conservation. Indigenous languages are embedded with traditional knowledge that promotes and protects biodiversity. But try telling that to the governments in Canada with its $1 billion “Linguistic Duality” program or provinces like Quebec with Bill 101 without any thought to how their language laws negatively impact Onkwehon:we languages.

All premiers and the Prime Minister of Canada must educated to the fact that language is more than just a form of expression for Indigenous peoples: for Indigenous peoples it is our link to our ancestors and their teachings, it is embedded with our traditional knowledge – a form of knowledge by the way, that has been used and exploited by government, pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic companies without the benefits to Indigenous peoples.

then concludes:

Remind Mme Marois of the press conference she organized with the AFNQL and Quebec Native Women a few years ago where the Parti Quebecois called upon the Quebec Government of Jean Charest to endorsed the UN Declaration. Ask her how she sees Quebec’s language law in the context of the UN Declaration.


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