Natives demand to be teachers in their schools

On June 21, 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act came into force in Canada. Sixteen months later, the Canadian commitment is still slow to make itself felt in the Aboriginal classrooms of Quebec.

This law provides in particular for the tabling of an action plan no later than June 2023, i.e. two years after its adoption by the House of Commons. The Canadian government is currently consulting with First Nations, Métis and Inuit to develop it.

The UN declaration states, in article 13, that « indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their history, their language, their oral traditions, their philosophy, their system of writing and their literature. Indigenous schools across the country are chomping at the bit to make this statement a reality.

« We are still a long way from recognizing Aboriginal jurisdiction over education, » laments lawyer Armand McKenzie, invited to speak at the opening of the summit on Innu education, which is taking place in Uashat mak Mani-utenam until Friday. “The federal government is giving insufficient money to fund Aboriginal schools — while ordering us to follow the Quebec curriculum, or risk not receiving any more funding at all. »

Language and culture in the classroom

In his opinion, the constraints imposed by the Ministry of Education hinder the development of indigenous peoples promoted by the United Nations declaration. » [Celle-ci] foresees that it is a right, to learn one’s own history and to do so in one’s own language, recalls Me McKenzie. This is not what we do: we promote Quebec culture in schools and we make it a condition for obtaining a diploma at the end of studies. »

In his opinion, the law on the official and common language of Quebec, French, better known as law 96, further reduces the already rickety place given to Aboriginal languages ​​in the school curriculum. “I was surprised to learn that there is still no more than an hour or two a week dedicated to language learning. It means that since the time when I attended the Pointe-Bleue boarding school, denounces Armand McKenzie, almost nothing has changed”.

The summit that takes place in Uashat mak Mani-utenam is important, according to the lawyer, to allow the Innu to adopt their own law on education. “The federal government must recognize the right of aboriginal people to have jurisdiction over their schools. This has been done in some aboriginal villages in Canada, for example in Nova Scotia and Ontario, where the communities are responsible for the programs and the certification of diplomas. It is not yet done in Quebec, adds Me McKenzie. Quebec is very jealous of its skills in education, but also very jealous of its culture and language. »

He is surprised, however, that the situation in Quebec – 8 million Francophones who more or less cling to their language in the middle of an English-speaking ocean – does not bring about greater empathy with regard to the danger incurred by indigenous cultures.

“We, the Innu, are about 10,000 speakers – all over the world! points out the lawyer. Imagine what situation we find ourselves in. We are not taking anything away from Quebecers by giving more importance to the Aboriginal language and culture. »

The new Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, says he is listening to Aboriginal concerns. » We [les] let’s hear, « he says, adding that he wants to take the time to learn more about the file before commenting further.

Two allies in Quebec

Even if he welcomes the investments made by the federal government to fund Indigenous schools, he deplores that behind the enormity of the amount – 1.2 billion dollars – hides first and foremost a catch-up necessary since the 1980s.

“Yes, the federal government has reinvested, but that follows cuts made 40 years ago,” recalls Armand McKenzie. The gap since then has only widened between provincial schools and aboriginal schools, to the point where there are decades of catching up to do. »

However, he is optimistic about the future. The federal action plan should soon give teeth to Ottawa’s commitment to the Aboriginal nations. The political situation in Quebec is also proving favorable to the claims of the First Nations, in his eyes.

“Within the Government of Quebec, we have two champions: Minister Ian Lafrenière and Kateri Champagne Jourdain, hopes Ms.e McKenzie. I think that they will be able to maneuver with the power in place to allow a greater role for Aboriginals in matters of education and Aboriginal language. »

If neither of the two levels of government accedes to the rights recognized by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide, warns Armand McKenzie in conclusion. “She will do it, concludes the man of law, most certainly in our favor. »

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