A hydroelectric project in far northern Quebec has been renamed after a former premier described Monday as courageous, visionary and compassionate, and whose personal relationship with Indigenous leaders made the venture possible.
Located deep in Cree territory about 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal, the Eastmain-1 dam and the Eastmain-1-A power plant are being renamed in memory of Bernard Landry, Quebec Premier François Legault said at a naming ceremony.
The large water basin behind the dam will now be called the Paix des Braves reservoir, after the historic 2002 economic development agreement between Quebec and the Cree that ended years of conflict.
Landry, who was premier between 2001-2003 and died last year, “was admired by the Cree nation for his courage, compassion and vision,” Grand Chief Able Bosum told reporters and other guests at the ceremony in Montreal.
Bosum said Landry was the first sitting premier to stay the night in the Cree community — a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed.
“Before the (Peace of the Braves) it used to be a challenge to get leaders to come to our community,” Bosum said, relating the story of Landry taking a morning walk through the Cree town of Waskaganish during a snowstorm on Feb. 7, 2002.
“A number of us were standing in the lobby of the community lodge and premier Landry comes walking through the door from his morning walk with a big smile on his face as if it was a beautiful day.”
Later that day, Landry and then-Cree leader Ted Moses signed the agreement, which gave the Cree more autonomy in development projects, millions of dollars in compensation, a new forestry regime, and enshrined the community’s consent for the Eastmain project that now bears Landry’s name.
The deal is considered a model agreement for economic development between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Bosum said there are many Indigenous people in Canada and around the world “who cannot imagine signing for a future together the way the Quebec government and Cree nation do every day.”
Legault said key to getting the deal done was the personal relationship Landry formed with Moses.
The premier said he is trying to sign similar agreements with other First Nations groups but it has proven difficult.
“My target is the same: sign as many deals as possible with as many Indigenous communities as possible with the Cree agreement as a model,” he said.
Moses attended Monday’s ceremony at Hydro-Quebec’s headquarters, and thanked Landry for the “effort (he) put in to recognize the Cree so we can have a rightful place in Quebec.”
Seventeen years after the deal was signed, Moses said, “you can see the communities and the development of the North and the benefits the Cree have received.”
Landry’s widow, Chantal Renaud, and her children and several political figures were present for the announcement, at Hydro-Québec headquarters in Montreal.
Legault also announced that the government is designating Landry as a historic figure according to the province’s cultural heritage law. He called Landry “one of the great builders of modern Quebec” and said the province has “a duty to pay tribute.”
Renaud briefly addressed the gathering, to highlight the importance her husband gave to this project.
“The economic future of Quebec, its cultural influence and its social balance were central to his life, a life entirely devoted to Quebec, his country. La Paix des Braves was the flagship. This agreement … he was proud of it until the day he died. A nation-to-nation promise, he loved to say, and it benefited both nations.”
The Bernard-Landry generating station and the Bernard-Landry dam produce 2.3 terawatt-hours of energy per year, or enough to fulfil the needs of about 135,000 homes.
Hydro-Québec installations have previously been named for former premiers Daniel Johnson, René Lévesque, Jean Lesage and Robert Bourassa.
With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud, Presse Canadienne