In Thursday, on the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory of Kahnawake, a $1.1 billion education deal was struck with the federal government. This agreement came as the culmination of years of hard effort by First Nations communities in Quebec to receive their ‘self-determination’ rights.
The accord was signed in Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve south of Montreal. It took Ottawa and the First Nations Education Council more than a decade of discussions to get to this agreement. “One of the privileges having been around for so many years is that you get to see very important, as you call them, madame minister, milestones,” said Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Ghislain Picard to Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu during a press conference.
The funds, which include fresh financing totaling more than $310 million, will be used to create educational programs that are tailored to the cultural backgrounds of around 5,800 children living in 22 different communities. School transportation and the training of more than 600 instructors will also be funded.
An education council representing eight First Nations in Quebec says the deal will enable the communities to take complete control of their schools.
This would empower the schools to choose their own curriculum, including Indigenous language education. Students in Quebec will be required to take additional French classes and will be limited in their ability to attend English-language institutions as a result of Bill 96, a French language preservation bill passed in the province. Therefore, when it comes to preparing students for higher education, schools located on First Nations may be forced to make challenging choices about the language(s) they choose to educate their pupils. Picard cited the case of a First Nations woman who is studying to become a social worker and speaks fluent English. “She has learned, this is recent, that the classes or courses that were before available in English are now only available in French, this is a prime example of the kind of situations that our people face,” said Picard. “I will add this, we haven’t closed the door on potential options to intervene on 96.”
Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Indigenous Services, did not denounce Bill 96 during a question-and-answer session. However, she said that providing First Nations with greater control over their own affairs will give them some protection against the law. “It is important for us to stand with Indigenous people as a federal government to make sure that they continue to have those rights, that they have the rights to educate their children in ways that are going to result in the success of children,” said Hajdu. The agreement, in force since April 1st, will be considered for renewal until the end of 2027.