MONTREAL -- Many Indigenous leaders described Quebec Premier François Legault as "arrogantc," "paternalist," and "dishonest" after his appearance Friday at the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec.

Legault had initially planned not to meet with the chiefs, preferring only to make a speech to the participants. At the insistence of the chiefs, and after a 30-minute delay, he finally agreed to take a total of three questions at the end of his speech, they said.

"He didn't have time to meet with the chiefs, but he did have time to talk to the media," said Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, referring to the news conference that immediately followed the premier's appearance on stage.

One of the chiefs, Réal McKenzie, chose to question Legault on the land issue, asking him to open discussions on the royalties Indigenous communities should receive for the development of their lands. Chief John Martin, on the other hand, addressed the way natural resource access policies are formulated, which he said exclude Indigenous communities.

In both cases, the premier declined to comment, saying instead that he is "willing to sit down with all of you to develop concrete projects" where communities would receive "a share of the profits."

"He didn't answer the question at all," said Chief Martin.

Chief McKenzie set the record straight: the land being exploited is "our home; when it comes to royalties, it's not the amount associated with it, it's the title."

"We can also manage large projects ourselves without having to leave the place to operating companies," added Picard.


During his presentation, the premier announced that the government will invest $10 million over five years to support the new First Nations Leadership School at HEC Montreal, which was unveiled on Thursday.

Earlier, Ian Lafrenière, Minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs, had stated that $3.3 million would be allocated to a hotel project in Kahnawake, the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal's South Shore.

At the request of Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Legault gave his support to a potential international exhibit on Indigenous cultures.

"Yes, I would love to have this kind of exhibit," he said. "We need a place that makes the knowledge of your cultures accessible to Quebecers."

"He's in election mode," said Chief Picard. "He is making a handful of announcements to polish his image."

According to him, "seizing the opportunity of the event to pass through ... it shows a certain arrogance."


For Indigenous Tourism Quebec board member Kimberly Cross, the circle provided an ideal opportunity to network and look to use tourism to boost local economies.

"Utilizing artisans, specialties and showcasing crafts or dancing and sharing culture, history, as an experience, can be a boost to the economy," she said.

"But at the same time, it can be a way of preserving language and culture and history and knowledge sharing," said Cross.

Cross said the combination of business, political and other Indigenous leaders in addition to corporate Quebec and other non-Indigenous leaders provides a glance of what real partnerships could mean for communities like her own in Kahnawake.

"I've never seen such a large gathering," said Cross. "There are large corporations here as well speaking about partnerships and how as Indigenous people we can partner with these larger corporations for development purposes." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French with reporting from CTV News' Daniel J. Rowe on Nov. 26, 2021. 


This article was produced with financial support from Facebook Fellowships and The Canadian Press.