Written by Marie-Claude Rioux
For 2021 Rendez-vous de la Francophonie
As we saw in the last two editorials, the deportation of the Acadians left many scars, if not gaping wounds. It would take many, many years before the Acadians were able to come together to stand up for their rights and work collaboratively to attain their goals.
The first National Acadian Convention was held in July 1881 in Memramcook, New Brunswick, 150 years after the deportation. The next conventions took place in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, and in Pointe-de-l’Église and Arichat in Nova Scotia; many others were held, up until 1979. The conventions made it possible for the Acadians not only to choose a national holiday, a flag, an anthem and a motto but also to fight for French education in Acadian schools, for an Acadian bishop and for better political representation. The conventions also helped give rise to a network of cooperatives.
Although these meetings were initially needed to bring the Maritime Acadians together to discuss common goals, Acadians gradually established international ties with Belgium and France, and then with other countries of the Francophonie. In 1968, Acadian delegates Léon Richard, Gilbert Finn, Adélard Savoie and Euclide Daigle were granted an audience with General de Gaulle. Later, French presidents travelled to Acadia.
However, the true legitimacy of Acadia as part of the Francophonie was affirmed only in 1994 at the first World Acadian Congress by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then secretary-general of the United Nations. He was the first to officially recognize Acadians as a people. Without a second thought, the Acadians named him “Boudreau Boudreau-Gallant” in a show of appreciation and inclusion, “Boudreau” and “Gallant” being well-known Acadian surnames.
Then, at the 1999 Sommet de la Francophonie in Moncton, Abdou Diouf, former secretary general of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, used the words “L’Acadie tire la Francophonie vers le haut” to state that Acadia’s place in the Francophonie strengthened it.
In 2005, the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie reaffirmed the Acadians’ status as a people and full-fledged members of the Francophonie when it recognized the Société nationale de l’Acadie (an organization that represents the interest of the Acadian people) as a consultative international non-governmental organization. The Acadians had made it to the big leagues.
When it was established in 1881 during the first National Acadian Convention, the Société nationale de l’Acadie helped create provincial advocacy groups, such as the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse, the Société de l’Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick and the Société acadienne et francophone de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard. Today, the Société nationale de l’Acadie is the umbrella organization for the four organizations that represent Acadians in the Atlantic provinces and, more importantly, the four youth organizations in these provinces. It also has affiliate members in Atlantic Canada, Maine, Quebec, France and Louisiana. Its mandate is to represent Acadians in the Atlantic provinces, in the rest of Canada and abroad in matters relating to topics such as culture and immigration. The Société nationale de l’Acadie also oversees the World Acadian Congress, which is held every five years.
But what sets the Société nationale de l’Acadie apart is that its governance includes a youth component, where youth have as much political clout as adults do.
Today’s Acadia can’t exist without its youth, whose energy, intelligence and insight are unmistakeable. Like others of their generation, these young Acadians are involved in advocacy and social justice movements that currently focus on linguistic security, equity, self-acceptance and acceptance of others, regardless of sexual orientation, race, background or religion. These young people demonstrate an open-mindedness and inclusiveness we can all learn from.
The Acadia of the future can’t exist without these young Acadians, who are already strong leaders. If you’re not already convinced, follow them on social media, participate as an observer in Acadia’s youth parliaments and in the Festival jeunesse de l’Acadie, or join them in their various activities, and you’ll quickly see how vibrant they are—anchored in the present, yet forward-looking.
The Acadia of the future is in the hands of these young people, who whole-heartedly and enthusiastically participate in Canada’s Francophonie through the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française. In this respect, Acadian youth are involved in a much bigger, national movement and are making valuable contributions.
Yes, the Acadia of the future hinges on these young Acadians from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and other Canadian provinces and territories who are gradually filling the shoes of the great men and women who have shaped and are shaping Acadia’s history. Our future also depends on the Acadians currently working abroad, who acknowledge their roots and give our people a voice. Our future rests on the many young artists, entrepreneurs and leaders of all kinds, who are a reflection of a vibrant, diverse and inclusive Acadia.
And it is this Acadia that I’m most proud of.