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.
Looking to the future through the eyes of our youth
By Sue Duguay, President, Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française
The Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF) works with young Francophones (aged 14 to 25) from coast to coast to coast. No matter where we are in Canada, we share common values, interests and concerns, despite the distance between us and despite our cultural differences. These concerns are a reality in our communities, a reality that binds us together.
Being Acadian and the president of a pan-Canadian organization, I know first-hand that having shared values allows us to connect with each other. I’m proud to see young Acadians take ownership of national issues, such as the environment, education, mental health and connectedness, through youth organizations. With regard to the environment, I’d like to highlight the Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick’s contest “Vert Demain,” which was launched for the first time in fall 2020. Through this contest, secondary students were awarded bursaries for their environmental commitment. For education, I think of the support Edmonton’s Campus Saint-Jean received after cuts were announced. Young people in Atlantic Canada were among those who showed their support for the only post-secondary institution in Alberta to offer programs in French. In the area of mental health, the Conseil jeunesse provincial de la Nouvelle-Écosse launched a campaign to raise awareness about various mental health myths and facts. All these projects are the product of connected minds across the country actively working together!
From a mental health standpoint, this is a particularly difficult time for us. To overcome this, youth are willing to come together and meet with young people from other provinces and territories not only to discuss culture but also to discover different Francophone accents and regional expressions. I can’t help but think of the Chiac and Brayon dialects, which are familiar to some Acadians, but less known among Francophones in western Canada, who have their own vernacular. Language, accents and expressions are a huge part of our cultural identity—mine and that of all young Canadians. The issue of linguistic security is therefore paramount and gives us a sense of togetherness, even when we’re alone at home!
The last issue that comes to mind is connectedness; that is, the desire to share and amplify minority voices in order to promote our country’s diversity. This makes me think of the FJCF’s Forum jeunesse pancanadien, whose theme this year was diversity. The forum provides a unique opportunity for youth to meet other young people with different backgrounds and realities.
Given the last year we’ve had, Francophone youth are more interested than ever in getting together to exchange ideas. Even though we’re thankful for all the wonderful initiatives that were launched within the last year, we’re eager to talk to you in person again!