The World Acadian Congress 2014

illustration by nicholas little

There is a kind of poetic justice for a people who experienced deportation in the fateful year of 1755 to have a funny habit of gathering every five years. The World Acadian Congress meets for the fifth time this summer from August 8 to 24 in two Canadian provinces and one U.S. state. Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine are, for the duration of this great family reunion, Acadia of the Lands and Forests. If the expression used by the historian Carl Brasseaux as the title of his book “Scattered to the Wind” reflects the reality of the “Grand Dérangement”, it seems that the wind blows with astonishing regularity to bring them back together. Louisiana and Nova Scotia have also hosted many people who are Acadian by birth or choice with family reunions and cultural events which loudly proclaimed Acadian pride. As often in Acadian history, and despite a long history of Acadian national conventions dating from the nineteenth century, the CMA was almost a missed rendezvous. Acadians are famous for their toughness, to be “hard-headed”. Even among them, there is one who is particularly stubborn and it is in large part thanks to him that the process that led to the first Congress in 1994 was triggered.

In 1988 in a speech before the Acadian Association of Alberta, Jean-Marie Nadeau launched the idea of the CMA. The precedent was established in 1881 and 1884 in the cities of Memramcook and Miscouche respectively where some 5,000 Acadians chose symbols that are still in use today: a national holiday, August 15; an anthem, Ave Maris Stella; a flag, the starred tricolor; and a motto, Unity is Strength. There were fourteen conventions afterwards, but the foundation for a political Acadia, or Acadian politics at least, was now in place. Nadeau’s militant nationalism was an open secret since the 70’s with his participation in a Parti Acadien which advocated the establishment of an Acadian province. His outspokenness, another Acadian quality he possesses in large quantities, did not always put him in the good graces of the political authorities. Therefore, he had to pass the baton to a determined team led by André Boudreau in order to realize a certain idea of Acadia. Although André is no longer of this world, he died in 2005, the one he, Jean-Marie and many others have worked so hard to create is still with us. In addition, each CMA seems to have a durable impact just as fertile as it is unexpected.
Thanks to the CMA 1994, New Brunswick hosted the Francophone Summit in 1999. This meeting of Francophone heads of state shined a light on the city of Moncton. So an international summit of the French-speaking world took place in a city named for one of the architects of the “Grand Dérangement”, the British officer Robert Monckton. This irony was not lost on the Quebec premier at the time, Lucien Bouchard, who said that “from now on, the name of Moncton will be associated with the French language forever.” In that same year, Louisiana received Acadians from around the world for the second CMA. Despite the Louisiana summer, thousands of participants celebrated the heritage of Acadians with us. We must not forget that 1999 was also the year of FrancoFête, the celebration of the tri-centennial of the founding of Louisiana as a French colony. Four years later, we marked our passing from French to American hands with much fanfare. Historical milestones continue to mark out our cultural territory.
Its perennity ensured, the site of CMA 2019 has already been chosen. Southeastern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island joined forces to take responsibility  for organizing it across the Northumberland Strait, formerly known by its French name, la Mer Rouge, the Red Sea. Next year, in October, when the temperature is milder, the second Great Acadian Awakening takes place in Louisiana. We cannot know whether the CMA will ever return to Louisiana, the dates around August 15 being mandatory, but we do know that Acadians everywhere recognize that wherever the CMA goes, Acadia continues to grow like seeds scattered to the wind.