To look only at current language instruction policies in Canadian schools is to overlook a long and rather tumultuous history with language use in that nation. More than just the French-English divide, the variety of languages taught and used throughout Canada reflect a history that at times has been contentious and even violent. The recent article in Yankee Magazine about the Acadian community in far northern Maine and Quebec demonstrates this:
In his article, Justin Shatwell describes the remarkable heritage festival held yearly in the Maine hamlet of Madawaska, which sits on the American-Canadian border. It is festival that was created as a defiant response to assimilation into English-dominant Canada and the United States. The mostly French community has deep social, ethnic, historic, and economic ties to their French-Canadian neighbors just over the town line. It is a week-long festival to celebrate the history and culture of a people thrown out of their homes by the British when they seized the land in the 1750s and 1760s. Many ended up in today's Louisiana, while others retreated to the remote woods of today's northern Maine.
For the TWIN schools community, a certain quote from the article stood out, regarding preserving the Acadian culture. As their children have more access to other cultures and traditions, as the travel for school and work, and even as they begin to travel themselves, many young Acadians are losing their French language abilities.
"The language is the vehicle of the culture," says Lise Pelletier, director of the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine/Fort Kent. "It's not just the words they're saying; it's that sense of being loved. That sense of being in safety. That sense of being with people who are your community. That's what language is all about."
I have two friends who are connected to the Acadian community; one from northern Maine and one from southern Louisiana. For both, their French names, their family recipes, their annual traditions, mean a great deal to them. They are holding onto that part of themselves not only to honor their families, but also to keep it alive for their children. It's a sense of being loved.
-Mary Bridget Burns