I was under the impression that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement enshrined Cree rights to educate our children in the language of our choice. That we were exempt from the provisions of Bill 101 and its language law companions.
Not so, according to the kindly old lady who served my son and I while we were trying to get a Certificate of Eligibility so that Eric could attend an English-language high school. “Sir, you are no longer on a reserve,” I was told quite strongly.
Perhaps I should start from the beginning. I apparently arrived with too few documents, despite phoning ahead to find out what documents they needed. That was when I tried to access my right as a Cree to have my son taught in the language of my choice.
Alas, no forms were on hand for a general exemption and in the end it just became easier to go back home and phone around for the material they demanded of me.
One of the documents they requested was proof that one of his parents was a Canadian citizen. I was confused as one of the pieces of identification we had shown them was Eric’s Indian status card. I said that if he had an Indian status card then obviously one of his parents had to be Indian under the Indian Act and therefore a Canadian citizen. (I know a few Mohawks who might disagree with me here.)
The kindly little old lady looked at me and said just because your son has a driver’s license that didn’t mean either of his parents did. That is when I realized that the bureaucracy had its own skewed logic and there was nothing human about it.
I did, however, contact one of the higher-ups in the Cree School Board, thinking that perhaps I was mistaken about my rights. I was informed that one of the Loon clan a couple of years back had the same problem, went to court over it and won. The Cree rights were upheld.
I arrived back with documents in hand, waited for a while, and was served by the same kindly old lady. She nodded and gave me her stamp of approval as I now had brought all the necessary documentation required by the Bill 101 bureaucracy.
Since I was golden and when everything had been photocopied, signed, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I ventured that there was a court case involving Cree rights a couple of years ago. I was informed quite strongly that it only applied to that Cree person and it was not a legal precedent. And that if I wanted those rights I would have to fight for them myself and it would only apply to me.
It turns out she was right about that, according to one legal beagle I talked to. I was told though that a child in English school on reserve could have a special exemption.
In the end though it would seem that in the skewed logic of the government, a Cree right is only an individual right that would apply across the board if each and every Cree took them to court to make sure that they had that right. Then, of course, each new generation of Cree would have to do the same because the former would not be a precedent.
By the Creator, that’s a lawyer’s wet dream! A continual battle for the same rights over and over again. The majority of the research is done so costs are low even though fees would undoubtedly be high.
Perhaps an easier method would be simply to launch a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Crees present and future? But given our “new relationship” with Quebec maybe a talk with the right people would see a change.
Let’s hope this happens before a Cree population explosion. Wait, aren’t we having one right now? That would mean that I and others may be only the tip of the Cree iceberg entering into Bill 101 waters. As our population grows by leaps and bounds there will be more of us educating our children off-reserve for one reason or another.
Think about it and think about how the Cree are going to deal with it. If a right can be watered down and eventually taken away by a bureaucracy then is it not our duty as Crees to fight to keep it? Shouldn’t we look at an addition to Cree negotiations whereby the right of a Cree to educate their children in whatever language they chose is a matter of fact?
I leave these questions in our leaders hands.