Matthew Coon Come provoked the ire of Quebec nationalists on Sept. 19 when he went to Washington and asked a U.S. audience to keep an eye on Quebec’s treatment of First Nations.

The Grand Chief said he was worried about sovereigntists using violence against First Nations peoples who refuse to be part of an independent Quebec.

Grand Chief Coon Come was in Washington to give a talk at the influential Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Officials of the U.S. State Department were present in the audience. The talk was on the future of First Nations in an independent Quebec.

“We are asking ourselves: Would force be used against the Crees if we affirmed our right to choose,” said the Grand Chief. “Sovereigntists assure that everything will happen peacefully and reasonably. But they say they’re going to form an army. I can only assume that one of the objectives of a Quebec army will be to pacify aboriginal peoples who refuse to separate from Canada.”

Grand Chief Coon Come followed this by asking those present to be vigilant in watching developments in Quebec. After his talk, he told reporters the risk of violence is real. “To be recognized as a country, the advisors of the sovereigntists arc telling them that they must be perceived as having control over their territory,” he said.

State Department officials who were present would not comment beyond reiterating the official U.S. position on separation: They’d prefer a united Canada, but it’s up to Quebecers to decide their future.

A Parti Quebecois official at the talk told La Presse that Grand Chief Coon Come s talk was “an attempt to create fear.” Said PQ spokeswoman Anne Legare: “You can’t take this as a serious opinion. Quebec is a democracy and the Americans know it. There is no reason to use violence against citizens who respect the law.”

La Presse editorialist Alain Dubuc responded by accusing the Grand Chief of making “incendiary declarations” and saying he was trying to play whites off against each other.