Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] Some Notes on the Acadian Diaspora

In those timelines where there was no grand dérangement--perhaps Governor Lawrence decided not to precipitate a breakdown, perhaps the French swept south from Louisbourg, perhaps Acadie remained French or became French--Acadie would be a territory home to perhaps two or three million people. Even if the British end up conquering Acadie, without ethnic cleansing the region's population would be overwhelmingly Francophone, and concentrated on the fertile lands around the Bay of Fundy, with an outer perimeter--the modern-day Acadian heartland in northeastern New Brunswick, Ile St.-Jean, Ile Royale, the Nova Scotian peninsula--settled by intrepid pioneers. The Acadians were beginning to do just that in our history, after all. With relatively little trauma, French-colonial Acadie would have evolved into a fairly modern and conventional polity of Acadia.

We don't live in such a timeline, of course. There are still three million people of Acadian descent in the world, but all but a small minority live outside of Acadie. The past couple of generations have seen a concerted effort to try to build an institutional structure for the diaspora, beginning recently with the spectacular Congrès mondial acadien of 1994 held in the New Brunswick Acadian cultural centre of Moncton. It's open to question whether an Acadian diaspora of three million people actually exists. These organizers might be conflating acnestry with identity--on Prince Edward Island, the Acadian family names of Arsenault and Gallant are perhaps the most common family names on the Island, but assimilation has certainly wrought its toll. Likewise, how many of the million-odd people of Acadian descent claimed to be living in Québec actually identify themselves as Acadian?

Nonetheless, the three million people claimed by the diaspora do exist. They live in the old Acadian homeland of Nova Scotia and the new Acadian centre of New Brunswick, in insular Prince Edward Island and the island of Newfoundland, in the solidly Acadian colony of the Magdalen Islands and in various immigrant and settler communities scattered across Quebec, in the French Gulf of St. Lawrence archipelago of St-Pierre and Miquelon and even in parts of western France, in New England as a consequence of the vast wave of immigration to New England from Atlantic Canada starting in the 1880s and continuing until the Great Depression. The most famous Acadian community resides in Louisiana, known as the Cajuns.

It's open to question how Acadian the Cajuns are. As the Encyclopedia of Cajun Culture notes, "about 2,600-3,000 (or 15-25% of Acadia’s pre-expulsion population) settled in Louisiana." These Acadians not only developed entirely separately from the main Acadian population centres in British North America, but they mixed with other settlers--Germans and Louisiana Creoles, to name two--to develop a vibrant culture of their own. Arguably, they constitute a distinct ethnic group, with their claimed Acadian identity being mainly nostalgic. The ongoing death of the French language certainly is removing one of the key markers of Acadian identity from the Cajuns.
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