The French: “In Quebec we are history, the rest is just prehistory”

QUEBEC – “Cancel culture” is not one-way: it can go in various directions. For example in Quebec, the new Musée National de l’Histoire du Québec will focus specifically on the history of the French-speaking Québécois nation, because what came before (Natives) “is only prehistory”.  

It was announced in recent days by Quebec Prime Minister François Legault who, talking about the new national history museum of Quebec, paid homage to the history of the region by saying that “it began with the explorers, Cartier and then Champlain, who were the founders of our Nation” …in fact, for the prime minister the history of the Province began with the arrival of the French explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain in the 16th and 17th centuries. A concept reiterated by the historian Éric Bédard, present at the announcement of the birth of the museum, who stated that history begins with writing, and that therefore “the indigenous people represent a bit the prehistory of Quebec”.

Statements that did not please the Natives, who accused the Quebec premier of wanting to erase their history. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador harshly criticized both Legault and Bédard in a press release issued Tuesday: “By excluding the First Peoples from Quebec’s history in the conception of the future national museum, the premier and the historian implicitly contribute to the systematic erasure of our common past” …and Chief Ghislain Picard called Legault and Bédard’s comments “unacceptable. We are inseparable from the history of this land, and the arrival of Champlain does not define Quebec,” he said in the news release. The First Nations have been present here for millenniums and are deeply attached to the territory they occupy. To suggest that we are prehistory amounts to relegating us to a secondary role, while our contribution to the formation of modern Quebec is fundamental”, the Chief said.

On Wednesday, Legault slightly corrected his aim, saying that the contributions of the eleven indigenous Nations of Quebec “will still be included in the museum. The idea – added the premier – is to show the history of the French-Canadian Nation, now Quebecois, started with Champlain. We will clearly talk about the Natives who were there before we arrived”. And then he stressed that his government is open to working with Indigenous Nations to ensure their history is recognized. Relatedly, Employment Minister Kateri Champagne Jourdain, who is Innu, told reporters Wednesday that “the history of First Nations is intimately linked to the development of the Nation of Quebec” and Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe also said the museum would not exclude indigenous peoples, adding that the stories of Quebecers and indigenous peoples “are interconnected”.

The national history museum will open in 2026 and cost about $92 million. Located within the Séminaire de Québec, the museum will also honor Quebec artists such as Céline Dion and Les Cowboys Fringants, as well as authors, sporting heroes and business successes. Strictly French, bien sûr.

In the pic above: Premier of Quebec, Francois Legault (from Twitter X – @francoislegault)