Indigenous People and Québec Identity: Revelations from the 2007 Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodation
Schaefli, Laura Marissa
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Many Indigenous leaders and public figures, as well as scholars of Indigenous culture and history, assert that non-Indigenous ignorance of Indigenous realities has systematically disadvantaged Indigenous peoples in Canada, weakened Canadian society, and makes it impossible to address the conditions of life for Indigenous people in Canada in a sustained or coherent way. Additionally, for many scholars silence and unawareness are deeply linked to colonialism and are implicated in the maintenance of unequal social relations. Drawing from this literature, I contend that in Canada, silence around Indigenous peoples and issues works as a spatial tactic of exclusion. I argue that unawareness is bound up in interests that work to render Indigenous peoples absent from the concerns of modern Canada, and that these interests are deeply intertwined with national and provincial identities such that silences around Indigenous peoples and issues are expressed differently in each Canadian province and territory. This thesis explores the nature of public unawareness of Indigenous realities in Québec. Using the remarkable public voice resource generated by the 2007 Reasonable Accommodation Commission in Québec, a public inquiry into Québec citizens’ opinions about the nature of Québec identity and its relationship to the integration of minorities in the province, I analyze the Commission’s mandate and geographical movements, as well as over 750 written briefs submitted to the Commission. I argue that unawareness of Indigenous realities is widespread in Québec and is unconstrained by participants’ social positions, interests, arguments, or level of engagement with the question of indigeneity in Québec. Though the Commission worked to exclude Indigenous content (and perhaps peoples) from its activities from the outset, eight Indigenous leaders submitted briefs and spoke powerfully and critically of the Commission’s exclusion. These authors point out that the question of Indigenous rights is far from settled, that the Commission’s and Quebecers’ unawareness of Indigenous realities is complicit in a long history of exclusion in Québec and in Canada, and assert that Quebecers will not be able to address their anxiety around immigration in any meaningful or coherent way until Indigenous rights are respected. In my focus on the Reasonable Accommodation Commission, I suggest the particular nature of exclusion in Québec. While exclusion of Indigenous peoples is a Canadian universal, its flavour varies. In this case, the provincial jurisdiction is important.