Our culture is still alive and it's relevant
Acadian pride isn’t just important to Charlottetown teacher Maxime Duguay – it’s a calling.
Duguay, a teacher at Ecole Francois Buote, has made a career educating young Islanders in the French language, but he said he finds it very gratifying when he can help people discover Acadian culture.
“As teachers we kind of have to go the extra mile to show the kids the strength of Acadian culture. They have an image of Acadians being kind of traditional and picture violins, country music, that sort of thing, or old outfits from centuries ago.
We have to show them that it’s more than what you see in history books or at a heritage festival. There’s more to being Acadian than the deportation or what textbooks show you.”
For Duguay the recent Congrès mondial acadien - hosted by PEI and New Brunswick this summer - was a perfect occasion for young Acadians like his students and for others like himself to connect with each other and to experience the breadth of Acadian culture. The sixth Congrès mondial acadien took place in August in Prince Edward Island and Southwestern New Brunswick to unite Acadians and all those interested in Acadian culture.
“I grew up in an Acadian area on the north shore of New Brunswick but some of my students live where it can be hard to make connections with other Acadians. “With the Internet and social media it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. You can make connections at the Congrès or at the Acadian games and then follow up, keep those links strong,” he said. “That feeling of being alone with your experience - it doesn’t have to be the case anymore.”
Duguay said he and his partner Veronique - a translator with the government of Prince Edward Island - are eager to pass on their Acadian traditions and language to their son Auxence, nearly one.
“You can find material now that’s in French if you look for it. There are French-language packages on cable TV for instance. That certainly helps. But we want him to know the culture and history as well as the language,” Duguay says.
“For the younger generation it can be a challenge to connect with the Acadian culture and see a side of it that you don’t get in school. Music can be an entry point - there are Acadian performers in every style, people who get invited to perform at festivals around the world. That’s a place to start.”
Duguay sees his family experiences and its Acadian heritage as something to preserve and treasure; but he recognizes many of his students are in the process of trying to recapture those roots.
“There are families where a grandparent married an Anglophone and they decided it was just easier to use English at home. Now a couple of generations later their kids are back working on regaining their language and culture,” he said.
“The thing about being Acadian is you can’t kill our culture. They moved us out of our homes and we persisted. They outlawed teaching in French and we set up schools in our homes. After 400 years of fighting to preserve our culture it’s still alive and it's relevant.”
Duguay said events like the Congrès mondial acadien are a great reminder of the heritage that has been passed to him.
“To see everyone like that, it’s powerful. There are families that come here from France or from the southern United States because being Acadian is so important to them,” he said. “If you're anyone who has roots in the culture but you’ve lost the language and the links to the French community, I’d just like to say it’s not too late.”
“You can regain those contacts and find a community where you will be welcomed. I’d recommend starting with the music.”