Poverty among Canada's Aboriginal Peoples is an enormous drag on the country's economy, says the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Phil Fontaine said Tuesday that there is an opportunity for transformation but the conversation must involve all Canadians.

Fontaine joined former prime minister Paul Martin at Ryerson University in Toronto for a discussion of indigenous governance.

Fontaine called it a shame that in a country as rich as Canada there should be so much poverty among First Nations children.

He said poverty is behind many social ills, including high suicide rates, the lack of schools in many First Nations communities and the disproportionate number of aboriginal people being incarcerated.

Fontaine said he would prefer to sit down at a table with various levels of government to work out differences, adding First Nations people shouldn't have to demonstrate.

Martin spoke about U.S. civil rights protests in the 1960s, and said protests can often bring attention to an issue, but violence should be avoided.