November 13, 2018
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Archives Director Presents on Acadians of the St. John Valley

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Lise Pelletier, director of the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Acadian Archives acadiennes, recently presented at a colloquium sponsored by the Federation of Associations of Acadian Families (FAFA) in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Pelletier was invited to speak about The Acadians of the Saint John Valley by world-renowned Acadian genealogy expert, Stephen White.

Pelletier’s one-hour lecture began with a review of maps and aerial photos of the St. John Valley so that attendees could experience the natural beauty of the landscape and understand Maine’s proximity to northern New Brunswick and Témiscouata, Québec.

Pelletier also gave a historical background of how Acadians came to settle in the Madawaska Territory and gave examples of town names that referred to communities on both sides of the St. John: Van Buren and St-Léonard were Grande Rivière; Frenchville and St-Hilaire were Ste-Luce; Madawaska and Edmundston were P’tit Sault; Fort Kent and Clair were La Grande Décharge. She handed out the family trees from the 16 original families who settled in the territory between 1785 and 1787.

Pelletier described how the homogeneous population of French Catholics grew increasingly as news of fertile soil and abundant land spread to friends and family in New Brunswick and the lower St. Lawrence region. That was followed by the boundary dispute between the United States and England, after Maine became a state in 1820. The Bloodless Aroostook War ultimately concluded in a compromise that benefited the lumber companies on either side, whether British or American, since it was resolved that the St. John River, which became the boundary, would be accessible to logging companies on both sides. The new international boundary described in the 1842 Treaty however, separated a united community, one that had survived both the Deportation, as well as the arrival of the Loyalists, into two separate nations.

From there, Pelletier focused on the Madawaska people who became Americans and how their lives were dramatically changed when French was forbidden as the language of instruction in schools, and when the Ku Klux Klan, along with industrialists and leading politicians, tried to become the dominant force in Maine between 1880 and 1930. Their targets were the French Canadians.

Pelletier spoke of the Maine anti-French law in schools, adopted on August 1, 1919, and the subsequent generations of French-speaking people who were humiliated and corporally punished when they spoke their native language. A practice that unfortunately continued after the law was abolished.

Pelletier finished her presentation on a more upbeat note by speaking about UMFK’s Franco-American/Acadian mission, and about the organizations of the St. John Valley — including the Acadian Archives – that are working toward revitalizing the French language in the area.

And of course, Pelletier spoke of the importance of the upcoming 2014 World Acadian Congress being hosted in the region of L’Acadie des terres et forêts, which basically is a reconstitution of the earlier Madawaska Territory when settlers arrived in 1785.

Also appearing at the FAFA colloquium were:

• Martin Arseneau, the communications director of the Congrès Mondial Acadien/World Acadian Congress 2014, who gave an update of the CMA planning stages of the World Acadian Congress: how many families have already signed up for reunions; major events; and community activities.

• Stephen A. White, a Yale Law School graduate, who discovered that his grandfather had changed his name from LeBlanc to White because of the prejudice against the French in the 1880s. White published the Acadian Genealogical Dictionary in 1999, which won the prestigious Donald-Lines-Jacobus prize from the American Society of Genealogists in 2005.

• Laurence Beaulieu-Arsenault a writer who gave a presentation about the importance of writing our own family histories.

• Monique LeBlanc, filmmaker and writer who has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board of Canada and whose most recent work is “Les Acadiens du Québec” produced by Phil Comeau.

Ms. Pelletier’s appearance at the colloquium was sponsored by the international organization of the Congrès Mondial Acadien/World Acadian Congress 2014.