APTN National News
Education and reconciliation are the key goals of a four day festival celebrating the long history between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians in Nova Scotia.
Grand-Pré 2017 is expected to draw thousands of people and will feature cultural events including storytelling, music and a powwow this weekend.
“We helped each other, told stories and shared together,” said Morley Googoo, Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. “And we’re doing all those things in this event. And it’s those things that really counted when we were friends.”
Googoo came up with the idea for the festival two years ago as a way to rediscover the unique relationship that existed between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians.
“Colonialism really erased a lot of our stories,” said Googoo. “The goal is to create safe places to talk about reconciliation.
“To make Canada a better place. To learn about our history… our success stories. We really need to let people know how beautiful our culture is.”
“History is told by the conquerors,” said Ronald Bourgeouis, the Acadian cultural coordinator for Grand-Pré 2017.
He sees this festival as a chance to promote the culture and share the history of these early allies in Atlantic Canada that both suffered oppression under colonialism.
“Right from 1604, when Chief Membertou shook hands with Champlain, that relationship has been there,” said Bourgeouis. “Acadians would not have survived without Mi’kmaw people.”
In the early 1600s, part of the Mi’kmaw homelands became known on the map as Acadia, in what is now called Nova Scotia.
Bourgeouis said Acadian culture was not simply transported here by settlers from France, but shaped by the land and close ties to the Mi’kmaq.
The Acadians built dykes to tame the Bay of Fundy and farm the land. The Mi’kmaq hunted and fished, moving their communities seasonally. Over the next century and a half, the two cultural groups would intermarry, fight together, and aid each other.
“The fact that we came together in peace and shared the land and shared our knowledge at that time was unique in the Americas,” said Bourgeouis. “From the Spanish to the English; it was conquering as opposed to cohabiting. But the Acadian culture is unique.”
British leaders based in Halifax began cracking down on the alliance between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. In 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps. By 1755, Governor Charles Lawrence issued a deportation order for the Acadians, when they refused to sign an allegiance with Britain.
The expulsion of the Acadians lasted until 1763 and saw over 10,000 people shipped off to Europe or the colonies in what’s now the United States.
Acadian lands were seized and homes burned.
Thousands died from disease and starvation.
“The Mi’kmaq took them under protection,” said Sherry Pictou, a Mi’kmaw assistant professor at Mount St. Vincent’s University. “Only six years since that scalp bounty, we still had it in us. That bond was so strong. To protect them and to hide them. Even though they were on ancestral Mi’kmaq homelands, we have to understand, for some reason the Mi’kmaq let them stay.”
And after the deportation order was lifted in 1764, Pictou said many Acadians chose to stay in Mi’kmaq communities.
“There’s something very historic and meaningful between these two peoples,” said Pictou. “And then of course, when those catastrophic events happened to both of them, colonization took root. These two people became seperated.”
Pictou is from the Mi’kmaw community of Bear River. She’s worn many hats, from chief to working in fisheries to life now as an academic.
And over that time she’s seen the current relationship with Acadian communities evolve.
During a teaching practicum in Richibucto, NB, in 1991, she recounts deep racial tension in the high school classroom between students from Mi’kmaq and Acadian communities.
“In the cafeteria, you would see all the Mi’kmaq kids on one side, and non-native kids on the other,” said Pictou. “I had them do family trees. When they realized they were possibly related, the whole dynamic had changed…in the sense that I didn’t have any more hateful comments in the class.”
Some Mi’kmaq and Acadian communities clashed over access to fisheries after the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall Decision which upheld Mi’kmaq treaty rights.
But in 2003, Pictou was part of a small experimental treaty fishery “launched on the handshake and goodwill” of Acadian people in Meteghan, NS, not far from her own Mi’kmaw community of Bear River.
“And it was a powerful moment, in an Acadian, French-speaking community,” said Pictou. “And that’s where we went out fishing.”
Again, in 2013, the fight over fracking in New Brunswick brought people from the two communities together.
“It’s just such an amazing history, because you find the two peoples are very well integrated,” said Pictou.
“If it hadn’t been for the deportation, it would be really interesting to see what kind of culture would have evolved between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians,” said Bourgeouis. “It just would’ve grown and grown. We lost a lot after the deportation, in terms of the connection between our people.”
The Grand-Pré 2017 event is being marketed as a peace and friendship gathering to celebrate Canada 150.
Googoo said when planning started two years ago, it wasn’t geared as an event tied to the anniversary of the confederation of Canada. One event press release calls it “a Reunion 400 Years in the Making.”
But the theme of reconciliation fit with Canada 150 and it provided $717,000 in federal funding for the four-day event.
“I don’t look at it in the context of reconciliation, because to me all of those are kind of false government promises the same as 150,” said Pictou. “But if anything, here’s these two groups of people coming together after all of this time.”
Pictou said some people are critical of the Canada 150 connection and she understands why, looking at the history of oppression both cultures suffered under colonialism.
“It’s not really celebrating Canada, it’s celebrating, god, we survived Canada,” said Pictou. “And we’re still here.”
And historically, the Mi’kmaq and Acadians have their own 150 years of an alliance to celebrate, from 1604 to the Expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, well before Canada was established.
The event will take place at the Grand-Pré National Historic site starting on Thursday.
“I hope that we can rekindle the energy that existed in the past,” said Bourgeouis. “And I’d love to see Acadians and Mi’kmaq making time for each other in the future.”
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