Most people know of my heritage. I am a proud member of the Maliseet community at Tobique. A relatively small First Nation nestled along the St. John River and located within short proximity of Perth Andover, New Brunswick. Our people have been inhabitants of this land for many centuries. We are holders of significant rights and special relationships with the Federal and Provincial government since Confederation and the inception of this Province's birth.
While growing up, my mother made the determination that our native language was more important than learning French. English was necessary since mastering this skill was the way to become better educated and to "get the good job." They didn't teach Maliseet in school, there wasn't an immersion program, and there certainly weren't sufficient resources to teach those who wanted to learn or maintain the language. Well, I did OK learning and comprehending the language and have the ability to teach most aspects of my language to my children. But hold on!
At the beginning of the school year my wife and I were forced into the difficult decision of answering which program our daughter should enrol. We chose early french immersion. Why? Well, like many parents we believe that without learning this language her options for employment will be limited. It's a shame we think like that, but many anglophone parents believe this to be true. I remember when all three of my daughters were born and while holding them I recall saying to myself thank god they are healthy. While raising them (and we still are) we do so in a manner where we hope they exceed all our expectations of them in life. Nobody wants mediocrity for their children and neither do we. However, I have come to the realization (as I have with my 16 year old) that no matter how much you want for your children to succeed in life we can only guide them so far. My 16 year old wants to be a journalist now after years of saying she wanted to go to veterinarian school. As her father I support her decision. Pushing her away from her goal is simply unproductive. At the end of the day, I want her to be healthy, happy, and to choose a career that she enjoys. I think as a parent that's all I can ask for.
So, why is it that some (and I say some) Parents feel compelled to believe that success will only be driven by the opportunity to learn French. Is it really because we are the only officially bilingual province in Canada or is it because of the loss of potential career opportunities? I don't know. I have heard a multitude of arguments both for and against, but if people really believe that you can't find suitable employment in our Province without being bilingual, I respectfully beg to differ. Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Tradesman, Business owners/operators, I know lots of them and many are unilingual and have done fine for themselves.
Of the many people that I speak to in my riding on this issue some believe their children will not be able to work for the government some day because they need french to do so. On reflection, there seems to be a deeper issue here that people just aren't saying but rather masquerading in flowery language. Is it the way government assess and employs people that has them frustrated? I hear this quit a bit: If you have a degree and have the requisite experience to perform the job well, should you be turned away because you can't speak French? Sure, if you are working in areas with a high population of French speakers I can see the argument, but what if you aren't? I was raised to believe that the best and most qualfied person should get the job. If having french as a second language is a necessary component of applying for employment than it holds true that every person should have the opportunity to learn French like my colleague, Kelly Lamrock, has been saying.
It would be an overstatement if I were to say the removal of EFI has been contentious. Many parents, academics and politicians have called this an attack on the French culture. I disagree. The French culture is alive and well and is legally entrenched in our Country's highest law and New Brunswick's Official Languages Act. Like First Nation's people, there is a special relationship between the francophone and the Crown. The difference being of course the legal protection of one language versus the slow erosion of another. The elimination of EFI is a removal of a program and not a culture.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same of the Maliseet and Mi'kmaq who have become lost people once again in this highly charged debate.
Thank you for taking the time to read,