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Quebec’s premier defends a new museum dedicated to the Québécois nation after criticism from indigenous people

Quebec Premier François Legault is defending his comments about a new history museum after being accused by a group representing First Nations of trying to erase their history.

Quebec Premier François Legault is defending his comments about a new history museum after being accused by a group representing First Nations of trying to erase their history.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador criticized Legault’s April 25 comments that suggested the province’s history began with the arrival of French explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In announcing the creation of Quebec’s new national history museum, the prime minister paid tribute to Quebec’s history, saying it “began with the explorers, Cartier, and then Champlain, who was the founder of our nation.”

The Assembly of First Nations also criticized historian Éric Bédard, who was present at the event and was quoted as telling reporters that history begins with writing and therefore “Indigenous people represent to some extent the prehistory of Quebec.”

In a press release Tuesday, the assembly said: “By excluding First Peoples from Quebec’s history in the concept of a future national museum, the prime minister and the historian are indirectly contributing to the systematic erasure of our shared past.”

Boss Ghislain Picard said Legault and Bédard’s comments were unacceptable. “We are inseparable from the history of this land, and Champlain’s arrival does not define Quebec,” he said in a news release.

“First Nations have been here for millennia and have a deep connection to the territory they occupy. To suggest that we are prehistoric is to relegate us to a secondary role, when our contribution to the founding of modern Quebec is fundamental.”

Legault told reporters on Wednesday that the new Musée National de l’histoire du Québec will focus specifically on the history of the French-speaking Québécois nation. He said Quebec’s 11 First Nations likely do not consider themselves part of the Québécois Nation, adding that their contributions will nonetheless be included in the museum.

“The idea is to show the history of the French-Canadian nation, and now the Québécois, which began with Champlain,” he said in Quebec City. “But of course we will talk about the indigenous people who were there before we arrived.”

He said his government is open to working with First Nations to ensure their histories are recognized.

Labor Minister Kateri Champagne Jourdain, who is Innu, told reporters Wednesday that “First Nations history is closely intertwined with the development of the Quebec nation.”

Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe said the museum would not exclude indigenous people. He said the histories of Quebec and indigenous peoples “are intertwined.”

The National History Museum is scheduled to open in 2026 at a cost of approximately $92 million. The museum, located in the Séminaire de Québec, will honor Québécois artists such as Céline Dion and Les Cowboys Fringants, as well as authors, sports heroes and business successes.

In his April speech, Legault said Quebec’s more than 400-year history began with French explorers and praised “women builders” like Jeanne Mance, before adding: “It’s important to highlight the presence of the First Nations who came before us and helped us over the years.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.

— Morgan Lowrie in Montreal with Thomas Laberge files

Canadian Press