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Activist Communique: New multicultural law could affect First Nations spirituality in Québec

First Nations and Inuit community members were among the thousands that demonstrated against the Parti Québecois' (PQ) charter of values over the weekend.

Essentially, this PQ plan would mandate that Québec's public employees are forbidden from wearing overt and visible religious symbols. This list includes hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and really large crucifixes.

Québec’s Premier, Pauline Marois, has stated publically on Wednesday September 11, 2013, that, "I'm very proud of the charter, the proposal we issued." She had introduced the plan the day before.

Despite assurances from the PQ that this would not affect the province’s relations with First Nations and Inuit communities, I remain skeptical.

For example, what this could mean for Indigenous communities in Québec is a restriction on wearing medicine pouches if working as a public servant.  

According to Inuk lawyer, Joey Flowers, in an interview with the Nunatsiaq online paper, “First, the PQ seeks to impose a duty of “neutrality and reserve” for those who carry out the actions of the state so they reflect the state’s neutrality and its independence from religion.

“This is a problem for many indigenous peoples in Québec, since spirituality is inextricably connected to governance,” Flowers said.

Second, the history of Québec includes suppression of the spiritual expressions of the original inhabitants and owners of this land, he said.

“Now they wish to impose the same restrictions on the settlers,” Flowers said.

Third — and related to the second point, Flowers said — indigenous people are in a special position now to support their friends from Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and other religions.”

We must remember that Canada finally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2010, though the agreement is non-binding.

UNDRIP." sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues". UNDRIP also, "emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.”

Idle No More Québec was quick to remind the Québec government, “it has an obligation to consult First Nations on all subjects that affect them, as is outlined under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, and reiterated by numerous decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Ignoring this responsibility has continued to advance colonial mentalities throughout the process of colonization.

It’s impossible to believe that the government of Pauline Marois has a genuine desire to unite people through a common societal project of values when its approach simply follows in the history of neo-colonialist assimilation that remains fresh in the hearts of First Nations people. In the past, our ceremonies, sweat lodges, potlatches, dances, songs, religious and spiritual symbols, cultural identities and languages were forbidden through the same kind of colonial policies that now threaten other religious practices.”

I also wanted to search out the opinion from a diversity of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people across Canada, so for the largest cross section possible, I used the social media tool Twitter.

First on deck is rabble blogger âpihtawikosisân ‏@apihtawikosisan1h

@krystalline_k the definition of 'overt religious symbols' seem pretty open to interpretation. Teaching in regalia? Definitely overt.”

âpihtawikosisân ‏@apihtawikosisan2h

“Long braids would likely not be an issue on a native woman, btw, because 'Québec Values' according to Marois validate colonial sexism too.”

Toronto’s Tiger Lilly tweeted:

Tiger Lilly ‏@TOTigerLilly4h

@krystalline_k my hair Incl my culture, spiritually which has NOTHING to do w/the state nor affiliated w/an organized religious institution.”

Kevin Carter tweeted:

 Kevin Carter ‏ @wapimaskwa691h

“Marois' Charter of Quebec Values totally MISSED tradition Aboriginal Headdress. Being ignored OR forgotten? #cdnpoli #indigenous

I asked cultural artist Wab Kinew: 

Seeking opinion for @rabbleca if the new #Quebec law means no long braids, medicine pouches for #natives #Indigenous Ideas?

In response, I got this tweet in return:

 Wab Kinew ‏@WabKinew13h

"@krystalline_k @rabbleca not sure, but I can tell you Native people won't give a **** and will continue to wear long hair and tradish items."



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