FORT KENT, Maine — A project based out of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent is looking to boost interest among St. John Valley’s young people in the area’s French language and culture.
Luc Legrer is an intern on assignment from the Societe Nationale de l’Acadie working with archives’ personnel to gauge interest in forming a St. John Valley Francophile youth organization.
“There are Francophile youth organizations across the provinces in Canada,” Legrer said. “Right now, I am doing research to see if there is a possibility of organizing a [youth] organization here in the St. John Valley.”
Legrer, who has worked with similar groups in his home province of New Brunswick, said the organizations are aimed at youth who may or may not speak fluent French, but who share a passion and interest in that language, culture and history.
Now is the perfect time to begin looking into an area Francophile youth organization, according to Acadian Archives Director Lise Pelletier, given the World Acadian Congress is coming to the region in August, 2014.
“We are hoping for [youth] events during which the kids can come together with parents and grandparents to share language and tradition,” Pelletier said. “That is where you see the different cultural layers pile on [and] a youth organization would be an exciting vehicle for that to happen.”
For now, Legrer is visiting area schools to talk with teachers and administrators to get a handle on interest for such a group.
So far, he said, the reaction has been very positive and the next step is to begin meeting with interested students.
Legrer said the organization would combine youth from schools around the area and allow them to meet and plan activities as an autonomous group.
“This would not only help rejuvenate the youths’ interest in French activities, it would help increase communication between the schools on this issue,” he said. “It would connect them all.”
In Canada, Francophile youth organizations hold regular symposiums, rallies and even music competitions leading to recording contracts, Legrer said.
They also provide safe, non-judgemental environments to explore the language.
“Some young people are scared to speak French in public,” Legrer said. “In a youth organization, they can all speak to each other in a setting where one way is not better or worse than the other.”
Working with the intern on this project is very much in keeping with the mission of the archives, according to Pelletier.
“Our role in the St. John Valley is not just about preservation of documents,” she said. “We are more of a cultural and educational center with a dedication to actively keeping the language and customs alive and vibrant.”
Involvement of young people, Pelletier said, is essential to that function.
“This is the perfect time for this,” she said. “The upcoming World Acadian Congress really opens the doors for kids who would like to be connected to other kids throughout this region, Maritime Canada, Louisiana and Europe.”
Legrer has been working on gathering preliminary information and conducting early groundwork for two months, and has one month left in the area before his internship is up.
The project, he and Pelletier promise, will not languish once he is gone.
“The SNA will have all the information I gather,” Legrer said. “It is likely they will send another intern to finish the work I started.”
In the meantime, it is his hope students will take the initiative to work with their teachers in creating a Francophile youth group.
“There is not one single magic formula for starting a youth group,” Legrer said, speaking from his experiences working in Canada. “In Quebec, they tend to be more political while in New Brunswick, they are more activity oriented.”
The key is to find what works for this area and run with it, he said.
“There is great opportunity for Maine right now,” Legrer said. “You already have a large population of older people who speak French and the 2014 World Acadian Congress is going to bring a lot of attention to that.”
French is so common in the St. John Valley, the native French-speaker Legrer said, it has stymied his efforts at English immersion.
“The first week I was here, I went into a restaurant to order coffee and a young person noticed my [French] accent when I spoke English, and he switched to French,” he said. “Suddenly, I realised I was in Maine having a real conversation in French [and] that is really impressive.”