Thank you to the Mi’gmaq people and their ancestors.
Thank you: for being at our side at the darkest hour of my people… the Grand Dérangement or as others have named it, the Acadian Deportation.
I am alive today because of the Mi’gmaq and I want to thank them. I owe them my life and that is a debt I cannot possibly repay.
I was not there in September 1755 in Grand Pré. I can only imagine the horror of families, husbands and wives, and their children torn asunder. Of men, embarking on boats capitained by the British Crown, saying good bye to their beloved Acadie, and never being able to return to the land that their ancestors had harvested for about a century.
My Acadian ancestors had decided, still reeling from the Utrecht Treaty of 1713, that they would accept British rule and become citizens of the Crown. They would not, however, pledge allegiance nor take up arms either for the Crown or against their enemies, namely the Indigeneous peoples and Colonialists of New France. Brave Acadians said: this is not our war, and we will not fight against our brothers and sisters nor our friends who have welcomed us on their land.
I would like to think that my ancestors were the first European pacifists in North America but cannot know for certain. What we do know, from historical record, is that too many Acadians paid for this bravoury with their lives. They were dispossessed and deported, long before the mass exoduses or brutal european wars that would scar the 20th century.
Acadians are an oft-forgotten people, a footnote in the history books. They are also ignored by too many who do not know the depth of dispair that marred my people for centuries. If you see a proud Acadian women or man today, remember that their ancestors were but a shell of themselves in the years leading up to and soon after the Conquête of 1759.
And why are there proud Acadians today in Atlantic Canada and beyond? It is because of the Mi’gmaq who took us in while the British chased after us, seeking to deport as many Acadians as they could. There were skirmishes and the Acadians and Mi’gmaq fought back. The Abenakis and probably others like the Maliseet were also involved, but with little result.
History was not on our side, and the only thing to do was to retreat. Children, women and men turned back into the waiting arms of the Mi’gmaq. Brave men and women of Indigenous descent protected these displaced Acadians. They managed to welcome many of those who fled, who were unwittingly a part of this mass exodus…. All of Acadie was affected, a whole nation was ripped from a land they had come to love and cherish, in the ways of the Mi’gmaq.
Come to think of it, Acadians were probably the first North American refugees. I do not resent the British nor their descendants who have become my fellow citizens. Acknowledging the past, does not mean that we must let horific acts become a part of who we are to day. We remember; we honour; we forgive, if we can ; we accept and move forward, together.
But the sad history of my people, almost two centuries before the unspeakable horrors of the 20th century, pales in comparison with the longstanding suffering that the Indigenous peoples in Canada have suffered since.
This land was not ours. It was Mi’gmaq land; it still is. They had lived here many thousands of years before Champlain ever imagined crossing this vast Atlantic ocean in search of spices and trade. But, true to themselves and their ways, the Mi’gmaq and other Indigenous peoples welcomed Champlain in 1604 as well as the Acadians that came in increasing numbers after 1630.
I owe my life to the Mi’gmaq and I have never been able to say these word publicly, or even been provided with an opportunity to thank them in person. I know my history but our shared history is seldom spoken of, much less understood by our contemporaries.
I can only speculate as to how it really happened. Who saved my ancestors? How did they escape their shackles? How long did the Mi’gmaq provide safehaven for so many of them? Who was it that prevented me from becoming a Cajun? I will never know, but chances are that their descendants have been living beside me all along. No
I have never had the courage or the mental fortitude to say it to the Mi’gmaq people at large, much less to a real person. Whom do I speak to? Who would even listen? If I cannot even say it to one person, how do thank an entire people? They form a proud nation, much like mine has become through the hard work and determination of women and men who stuck together, who forged ahead despite impossible odds. We are the sum of our life experiences and I, for a long time, did not have the maturity nor the appreciation for history that I have now.
My life is theirs, but I am ashamed of the way we have treated them. How we have disposessed them of their land, their livelihood, their ways, their dignity. I have not done them harm personally nor, I hope, have my ancestors. But history teaches us that too many injustices have been brought to bear on such a generous and welcoming people.
This parcel of land on Mother Earth that they chose to inhabit is majestic. From Cape Breton Island, along the Nova Scotia Coastline to the Annapolis Valley (the hub of Acadian life in the early 18th century), Almost reaching the Wolostok (Saint John) River of the Maliseet, to the Aboujagane River bassin, from the now Acadian Penisula almost to the shores of Gaspesia, or if we honour their language, Gespe’g. This vast territory and the waters sorrounding this land was and is their home. We sould all learn to say it with respect and deference : Mi’gmaq, the people ; Mi’gma’gi, the land.
They had welcomed Acadians on their land four centuries ago. They had provided us with shelter, food, and many survival techniques that had been handed down to them for countless generations. They had shared their land and their ways with us.
In this unforgiving land that was to become Canada, Indigenous peoples had taught us to survive and to live off of the land. They had given us back our humanity at a time when being alone with nature could become a death sentence. They shared traditional medicines, and became our friends.
But time has brougth us futher and further apart when we should have stuck together all along. A little gap has grown into a great divide, pulling us further apart. It is almost as tragic that the Mi’gmaq and Acadians have forgotten a the strength of the friendship that has been forged in the past.
And how have we, as Canadians, repaid them? We insult their intelligence, we haved robbed them of almost all that they have, we have cornered them into small swatches of land that cannot compare to the vast riches of the land, and water, and nature that they lived with in harmony and breathed in for millenia, well before European settlements.
And now, my Acadian compatriots vastly outnumber the Mi’gmaq but do not always come to their defense. Some do, with dedication and vigour, but the enormity of the task at hand is overwhealming. Our longstanding friendship with the Mi’gmaq should be a living testament today. We should stand with them. Their struggles are also ours. Their plight is as important as our was in 1755. We should all stand tall, together.
So thank you to the Mi’gmaq, to each and everyone of you. May this blessed Mi’gma’mi you have shared with me and my ancestors be truly yours again one day.
I would hope that you, in your welcoming nature, will continue accept that your Acadians friends live beside you, stand with you, and share in your wisdom, much as your ancestors have done with mine in the past.
21 June 2017