Acadians and Louisianians say, We have not forgotten! Plus: Readers on both sides of the border complain about our use of "America," and Andrew O'Hehir responds.

By Salon Staff
Published March 2, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

[Read "America's Forgotten Atrocity," by Andrew O'Hehir]

As a person of Acadian descent with a strong attachment to the "old country" (my maternal grandparents immigrated to Boston from Nova Scotia), I look forward to reading John Mack Faragher's new book.

My earliest ancestor, Philippe Muis d'Entremont, arrived in Nova Scotia in 1654. When my family was expelled from the Pubnico area of Nova Scotia in 1756, they were sent on a ship to Georgia but first put in port at Boston, where they petitioned the colonial government to allow them to stay in Massachusetts. Granted permission, they stayed until 1767 and returned to Pubnico, only to find their lands inhabited by families from New England. Everything I know about my ancestry, whether through my own research, or in conversation with my many cousins still residing in l'Acadie, points to a general agreement with Faragher that le grand dérangement was indeed one of the first programs of ethnic cleansing in North America.

When Andrew O'Hehir asks why the big deal when there were only 18,000 Acadians affected, Faragher misses an opportunity. True that 18,000 people in the mid-18th century was a large number for the time and one should look at these things in perspective. But to listen to these two men, one would have the impression that once those 18,000 died that that was it for the Acadians. Despite the implication that it is dead, Acadian culture survived both through the tenacity of its people and its religion. We have, after all, our own flag (my flag decal is placed on my truck where others place their American flag decals), a language that is neither truly French, nor truly English, but in many ways American (and that many of us do not speak), a music borrowed from many traditions yet unique in its sound, and a population of over 3 million scattered throughout North America.

We Acadians recently celebrated 400 years of French presence in North America, and this year marks the 250th anniversary of le grand dérangement. We have not forgotten even if the rest of America has.

-- M. d'Entremont McInnis

I was pleased to see the article about the Acadians' forcible removal from Nova Scotia. I grew up in Lafayette, La., the heart of "Cajun country." When I was in the sixth grade we learned all about what happened and had to study Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" -- very tragic and romantic.

I moved from Louisiana for college when I was 18, right when Cajun food and culture were becoming popular all over the United States. I found out that most people assumed that the Cajuns came straight from France to Louisiana. I look forward to reading the book.

-- Reilly Gallagher

Thank you for the great article about Acadian history. However, I think you give present-day Acadians short shrift when you remark, "There is a remnant Acadian culture in the province to this day."

The numbers may be few, and the culture is no longer pure, but the Acadian spirit burns bright.

I know firsthand; my wife's mother is born-and-bred Acadian (ironically enough, she married a man whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower). I can attest that the Acadian spirit of accommodation and neutrality live on. Although they quite openly remember the events of 1755, I sense no bitterness; rather, they seem proud that they overcame that adversity. Unlike the Quebecois, the Acadians seem content with their lot as citizens of Canada.

Also, they still like to have a good time.

-- Brian Crounse

It is worth noting that while the story of the expulsion of the Acadians from their northern home may have been forgotten in many parts of the country, memory of it is alive and well in Louisiana, where many of the Acadians (now known, of course, as the Cajuns) settled.

So alive and well, in fact, that a locally successful musical was produced a few years back which retold Longfellow's version of events, and towns still boast oaks that in popular legend are believed to be the places where the ill-fated lovers waited fruitlessly for each other. Some Louisiana francophone literature, my area of study, also retains themes of exile and displacement that can be traced back to this event, later to be compounded by the Americanization of their new home in Louisiana.

So -- gone, perhaps, but not forgotten. And certainly worth reminding the rest of the country about.

-- Christine Harris

I am glad to see the deportation of the Acadians, an event that affected both Canada and the United States greatly, finally recognized in mainstream American history. The expulsion is of wide interest in the Canadian provinces that were, and still are, home to the Acadians -- reflected in historical study, literature, the arts, and public debate. I have not yet read "A Great and Nobel Scheme," but I hope the article by Andrew O'Hehir is not an accurate reflection of the content. O'Hehir says there is a "remnant" Acadian culture in Nova Scotia and completely neglects to mention the thriving Acadian culture and population in New Brunswick. The province's two official languages are French and English, people of Acadian heritage make up a third of the population, and French is taught in all schools. Cajuns in Louisiana are familiar with the strength of this culture, since they flock by the thousands each year to Acadian festivals in New Brunswick. The human cost of the deportation is shocking and a terrible legacy of the French-English wars that scarred the early years of the colonies. But Acadians and their culture are fiercely resistant and now form part of a broader Canadian society that values multiculturalism and tolerance.

-- Amy Olmstead

The Acadian expulsion is not an American atrocity! It's Canadian. Having lived in areas of Nova Scotia from where Acadians were expelled, I can assure you that it has not been forgotten. My schooling covered the topic and there are still many reminders of the region's Acadian heritage.

Please knock off your imperialistic tendencies and find your own atrocities to dig up.

-- Joel Burrows

Why does the author insist on referring to this event as a part of "American" history? Certainly America has its fair share of bad behavior in its history, but the Acadian expulsion happened at a time before America even existed and in a place that's now a part of Canada. Americans should take responsibility for American history, but this event isn't part of it and it's very irritating to have it referred to as such.

-- Bill Wolfe

By the title and content of this article, I would assume the interviewer Mr. O'Hehir and the author John Mack Faragher consider the horrific and heart-wrenching saga of the Acadians to be purely an "American" (that is, pertaining to the U.S.A.) historical event. It boggles the mind that somebody could write an article about the Acadian expulsion and not mention any Canadian perspective on this well-remembered major episode in our history.

The Acadians are still very much a living culture (particularly in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, along with the "Cajuns" that settled in Louisiana) and to pontificate on their "destruction" in the 1700s is to have a typically blinkered American view of reality. On Canada Day (July 1) last year in Ottawa, a primary part of the national celebration was marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia!

The Canadian author Margaret Atwood once said that the Canadian-American border was "the world's longest one-way mirror." Your article is yet another example of why Canadians are fully aware of what side of the mirror they stand on.

-- David Woods

Andrew O'Hehir responds:

My usage of "America" and "American history" is not meant to refer exclusively to the United States. The terms are consistent with the approach to American history exemplified by John Mack Faragher, which sees the field as concerned with the expansion of European civilization to this continent. The history of the United States is part of that field, as is the history of Canada.

In 1755, when the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia, neither nation yet existed. The British consistently referred to their colonies in this hemisphere as "America," as in the letter cited by Faragher: "If we effect [the Acadians'] Expulsion, it will be one of the greatest things that ever the English did in America." While the Acadians lived in what are now the Canadian Maritime Provinces (and some still do), the campaign to expel them was largely planned in Boston, the troops who carried out the expulsion were mostly New Englanders, and the deported Acadians were mostly sent south to colonies that later became part of the United States. Their story does not belong solely to Canadian history or U.S. history; for better or worse, it is part of our shared North American heritage.

Salon Staff

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