Indigenous groups in Quebec say the new compulsory Quebec Citizenship and Culture program for elementary and high school students is a step backward, rooted in “nationalist ideology,” that was prepared without significant consultation with First Nations.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced Sunday that a new curriculum would replace the province’s current Ethics and Religious Culture program, known as ERC.
The new course is meant to focus more on Quebec culture, something premier François Legault said in his recent inaugural speech would help promote “national cohesion.”
Denis Gros-Louis, director general of the First Nations Education Council of Quebec, told CBC Wednesday that even the name of the new course is problematic.
“Our greatest surprise was the use of ‘Québécois’ as an adjective, painting everybody with the same brush,” Gros-Louis said.
“And that it would be central to citizenship — we’re not citizens!” he continued.
“There’s not a single citizenship in Quebec. There are several cultures. There are several languages,” Gros-Louis added.
“It’s kind of of like telling First Nations that you have to be a good Québécois first, but we’ll talk about you in our course. Uhhh — no,” Gros-Louis said.
New course ‘never discussed’
In the statement announcing the new program, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière was quoted as saying that the new curriculum was developed in consultation with representatives from First Nations and Inuit communities.
In an email to CBC Wednesday, Lafrenière’s spokesperson Mathieu Durocher said the First Nations Education Council was one of the groups consulted.
Gros-Louis said that’s not true.
“No. It was never, never discussed in any way, shape or form,” Gros-Louis said.
He said the council is part of a group that’s been working with the ministry since January to make changes to the existing ERC curriculum.
But Gros-Louis said the idea of renaming the course and focusing on “Quebec citizenship” was never discussed.
He said the first he heard of the new course was in Legault’s inaugural speech last week.
Gros-Louis said after that, he requested a meeting with Education Ministry officials, who offered only vague descriptions of what the new course might be.
Then came Sunday’s announcement by the minister.
The press conference included a video featuring several CAQ cabinet ministers vaunting the new course. Also invited to the announcement were three Quebec entertainers. There were no people of colour or Indigenous people present.
“Where were First Nations? Where were other cultural representatives? Nobody was there, nobody,” Gros-Louis said
“When you make such an announcement, you inform ahead of time those who took part in the consultation and you invite them. It would have been respectful,” he continued.
“The simple fact that it was only presented by government representatives with a very well sorted-out communication strategy sends a signal that they want to politicize that,” Gros-Louis added.
Denial of systemic racism brings mistrust
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador also said it was very concerned about the new course, calling it part of a “nationalist ideology” currently being championed by Legault.
Assembly Chief Ghislain Picard said the Legault government’s consistent denial that systemic racism exists in Quebec makes it difficult for First Nations to have confidence in the new course.
“What kind of message to young people can be expected by a provincial government that is determined to deny the deep roots of discrimination and racism that make it a systemic scourge?” Picard said in a statement Monday
“Young Quebecers will be convinced that it’s legitimate and fair to have built Quebec’s collective wealth on the backs of First Nations, and that the rights of the ‘Quebec nation’ in terms of culture, language and heritage are superior to those of other nations who share the territory,” Picard continued.
“There are other ways to build national pride,” he concluded.
Name of course is a deal breaker
Gros-Louis said the First Nations Education Council is still willing to consult with the province on the new course, but only if it gets a new name.
“It should be ‘Cultures within Quebec’ or something like that, but it can’t be citizenship with an adjective about Quebec. It can’t do that,” Gros-Louis said.
“If the name doesn’t change and they stick to a political agenda, it’s going to be a tough ride,” he continued.
“That’s what we expect from the Minister of Education — to build inclusiveness, not assimilation,” he concluded.
Lafrenière was unavailable for an interview. His spokesperson said the new course content was still in the process of being developed.
“One of the objectives of the course is to better equip our young people, so that they are more aware of the issues and realities of First Nations and Inuit,” Durocher said.