English CEGEPs say French-language law fails to help Indigenous students

"To make these laws, it is a direct affront insult to Indigenous people," says Kim Tekakwitha Martin, Dean of Indigenous Education at John Abbott College, of Quebec's Bill 96. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

In a letter addressed to Premier François Legault recently, five English CEGEPs cited the “urgent need to act” after the Quebec government shared no plans to offer Indigenous students more breaks to meet the requirements of the new charter of the French language.

Without support, some in and around the Kahnawake community say students may be forced to move out of the province or abandon their studies altogether. 

“I went to high school in Montreal and I was able to get a bit of French there, but the thing that I struggled with a lot in high school was the confidence to be speaking French,” explained Adrianna Montour, a student at Champlain College Lennoxville.

“Going away for CEGEP in a very French area where there’s a lot more French than I’m used to day to day, it was a big challenge for me,” Montour said.

Since 2023, Indigenous students attending English-language CEGEPs have been exempt from taking the uniform French test. Soon, they will also be able to take three French language courses rather than three courses in French, but many say it’s not enough.

“Certain teachers will only speak French. Certain teachers are very hard on students,” said Montour. “You feel out of place that you don’t know what’s going on around you and it doesn’t feel the way a school or a learning environment should feel. “

Adrianna Montour. (Photo Credit: Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews)

Meanwhile, school administrators from the community say the impact of French-language laws on its students runs deep.

“We see students that are choosing not to come at all to school. This would have been their first year. Some are deciding to wait to see how their colleagues might fare with the French-language courses. Other students have decided not to continue in Quebec and they’re transferring to Ontario colleges,” said Kim Tekakwitha Martin, the Dean of Indigenous Education at John Abbott College.

Bethany Douglas a post-secondary counselor and team leader at Kahnawake Education Center added, “We do have a few students who, right from high school, opted to attend Ontario colleges like Algonquin College, St. Lawrence College. But then if they do choose to go to Ontario and then come back, Quebec won’t always recognize their degree, so that’s an added sort of difficulty.” 

To the Quebec government, Martin says, “Let’s look at ways that we can work together and build economic development, build social education. Our ancestors have been through this – colonialism, residential schools, using the education system for means of oppression. This is our Motherland. To make these laws, it is a direct affront insult to Indigenous people.”

Montour adding that she’s “Hoping for a lot more encouragement, a lot more security and support for all the students, not just the ones that are currently there but the ones that are thinking of going to CEGEP.”

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