In June, 2001, Grand Chief Ted Moses met with Bernard Landry in the Quebec premier's imposing office complex, known as "the Bunker," to discuss how they could bring more prosperity to the Cree and end an acrimonious history of legal battles over hydro dams and other resource development in northern Quebec.
Mr. Landry asked Mr. Moses a question for which the chief was not prepared: "Are you a Canadian first or a Québécois first?" Mr. Moses's mind raced. Was this a trick question from the staunch separatist premier?
Could the wrong answer kill any chance of negotiation and reconciliation?
"My brain was going a million miles an hour and then the only answer finally came to me. I told him: 'I'm neither Canadian nor Québécois first,' " Mr. Moses recalls 17 years later. "I am Eeyou Eenou. It means people and that's what we Cree call ourselves. We are a people who have a right to self-determination."
Mr. Landry, the indefatigable believer in the dream of Quebec independence, recognized common ground. "Very well, we shall meet again," Mr. Landry replied.
The discussion set the stage for La Paix des braves, a 50-year agreement that ended 16 lawsuits, put $109-million a year plus revenue sharing into the hands of the Cree nation and opened the door to northern developments that have enriched all Quebeckers.
Mr. Landry, a hot-tempered and deeply devoted politician whose love and ambition for Quebec were unwavering, died Tuesday from pulmonary fibrosis. He was 81. He was a powerful and supremely competent figure in several Parti Québécois governments in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, but served as premier for only two years. He considered La Paix des braves among his crowning achievements. Allies and political opponents alike called the agreement visionary. Mr. Moses, who became friends with Mr. Landry, even attending his second wedding, agrees.
"It takes a deep political commitment to make something like this happen, to create a relationship, to create trust, to have trust.
We referred to each other in the years afterward as friends and brothers. It's not everyone who can get to that point," Mr. Moses said.
What the agreement and Mr.
Landry still mean to the Cree was clear this week as current Indigenous leaders expressed condolences to Mr. Landry's family: "We have all lost a friend. Farewell, Mr.
Landry. A rest well-deserved for a truly brave man who has served his people and his nation well."
Jean-Bernard Landry was born on March 9, 1937, and was raised in a farmhouse near Saint-Jacques, Que., a small village about 45 kilometres north of Montreal. He was the only son of Bernard Landry and Thérèse Granger, who also adopted two girls. Mr. Landry said his mother instilled in him a love of literature and music.
He studied at a one-room schoolhouse before enrolling in Séminaire de Joliette - one of Quebec's priest-run classical colleges that trained a generation of Quebec leaders from René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard to Pierre Trudeau. Jean Chrétien was one year ahead of Mr. Landry at the school. Mr. Landry learned Greek and Latin, which he would often use in a flourish on the campaign trail in later years. He also learned to speak Spanish fluently.
Mr. Landry said his "road to Damascus" and the sovereignty movement came when he joined Le Régiment de Joliette of the Canadian Forces. "We could see that Francophones were secondclass citizens. I was told, 'You speak English, that's an order,' and that type of thing. I won't even talk about the insults," he told Saturday Night magazine in 2001. Still, the structure and discipline of army life appealed to him and he made friends among some English-speaking officers who were "enlightened people." He would remain in the reserves for 10 years.
He studied law at the University of Montreal starting in 1958 and led a strike against tuition-fee hikes as president of the student union.
He campaigned for the Liberal Jean Lesage government in 1960, but by the next year, archival Radio-Canada footage shows him hinting at an evolution toward the separatist movement.