Commemorating Acadian Deportation in 2019:
Narratives, experiential learning, and place attachment
Presentation by Michelle Thompson
Today I’m presenting part of our preliminary results for a 14-site study of historic sites conducted at interpretation centres and museums located in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and in Louisiana. I’d also like to recognize our research team: Dr Eric Forgue, Dr. Laura Atran Fresco and Dr. Yves de Champlain, Eric Mathieu Doucet, Dr Michelle Landry. The study is funded by SSHRC.
Today we’ll be talking about the following: the narratives heritage organizations use, the preservation strategies used on Acadian and Cajun historic sites, knowledge transfers, the relationships with cultural groups who share a history with Acadians and Cajuns.
What are collective narratives? Who uses them? They are a way of explaining and understanding historic events. They story of a “nation” constructs their collective identity. Institutions, corporations and the media use narratives to construct and sell their programs, ideologies, and products. Narratives are part of commemorative and heritage conservation activities (museum exhibits, monument inscriptions, public speeches). The emotions we experience are a form of internal narrative related to judgement and beliefs. When a visitor hears the narrative of a historic site this can generate an emotional response which leads to feelings of pride, sadness, anger, or belonging.
“If emotions are narratives, emotional experience is then rather constituted by the situational circumstances, events and conditions as they matter for the emoting subject.” (Kleres, 2010, p. 189)
Ashmore, Deault, McLauchlin Volpe describe place identification as follows: 1) Identifying one’s self as a member of, or categorizing self in terms of a particular social group. 2) The emotional involvement felt with a group and the perception of the commonalities with other group members. 3) The ideology or beliefs about a group’s experience, history and position in society. 4) The narrative or internally represented story that a person develops regarding self and the social category or group.
What narratives did we find in our study of Acadian and Cajun interpretive centres, museums and monuments? We will discuss 4 here today.
Narrative #1: Acadians learned to survive on the land and meet their dietary needs thanks to their friendly relationship with First Nations. During the deportation, some Acadians took refuge among Indigenous peoples.
The Pubnico Museum reads: Thanks to their harmonious relations with the (Indigenous), the Acadians learned to survive on this new land through hunting, fishing and agriculture. (translation)
This narrative is also found in Louisiana. In St Martinville, we find an exhibition placard at Longfellow Evangeline Historic Park. It reads: “Make Acadians avoided deportation. They took refuge among Indigenous communities or in the interior of the country.
Narrative #2: The marshland and aboiteaux is one of the most popular across various sites in Canada but is also found in Louisiana. In fact, this narrative is found in the UNESCO nomination and designation process for the Grand Pre site. “The nomination proposal highlights the importance of the agricultural landscape (dykes, aboiteaux, marshland, farming)… »
It’s often found on institutional websites such as the Parcs Canada Grand Pre page and the Pubnico Museum website. The narrative suggests that Acadians “transformed barren lands into fertile lands.
Quote: Acadian farmers used ingenious construction techniques for building dikes, which they developed in Port Royal, enclosing a thousand acres of marshland which, once desalted, consisted of high quality farmable land. (translation)
In St Martinville Louisiana, the discourse about marshlands and dikes is found on an exhibition placard at the Acadian memorial Center. The placard provides visitors with instructions on how these dikes work.
Our research found common archetypes in the Acadian and Cajun cultural narrative. In Louisiana, the Cajun “builds everything by hand using materials found in their surroundings”. In other words, they are “good with their hands”. In Canada, the narrative of the Master Farmer is present. The Acadian as builder is also present.
“these are the tools that my grandfather used because my grand-father was a builder of boats, he built “geolettes” (Interview PA12)
Narrative #3: The story of Evangeline is much more present in Louisiana. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, respondents make no mention of her. Romanticism plays a role in the appropriation of the Evangeline character as a real person. Visitors consume her story. Residents of the community appropriate her as one of theirs. The fictitious character becomes a national symbol and local legend.
“She was a real person who lived here, you know. So separating the myth from, …it wasn’t meant to be memorializing the Acadian exiles…it was memorializing Evangeline.” (OL6)
Some appear conscious of this. The story is part of a commodification of Longfellow’s poem for monetary and touristic purposes.
“Our culture has been strip-mined for a long time, where people take what they want and don’t give back. Our culture has been fictionalized by the poem Evangeline. … That’s what tourists wanted to come to see. Again, it wasn’t reality. There was no effort to teach the true story of the Acadian deportation. It wasn’t taught in the schools. » (OL1)
“because it’s a romantic idea, it will sell something romantic” (translation OL3)
In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Acadians commemorate the “ripping apart” of families and the loss of a “homeland”.
“To be told from one day to another that they were becoming outlaws and bad citizens, I see that as a feeling of humiliation” (Translation, PA13)
In Louisiana, Cajuns commemorate the reunification of families and the rebuilding of their community. By their migration, Acadians become Cajuns. The Cajun narrative sees Acadians as refugees who collaborated with the Spanish to resist the English during the American Revolution, and contributed to the cattle industry.
In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the monuments are a source of regional or local information and can transmit knowledge about each region.
“…the monuments serve to transmit knowledge. …when we go and read the local text of the monument, in Campbellton, in Miramichi, in Saint-Basile, in Houma in Louisiana or in Saiint-Jacques de Montcalm in Quebec, all the monuments appear similar with the exception of the local plaques…” (translation)
The monument is used for assembling, for public speech, for rituals. Here we see visitors placing flowers in a bucket which honors Acadian ancestors. The intention is to transmit collective memory to the new generations that visit the historic sites.
« Alors pour moi le gros effort c’est de transmettre la connaissance aux générations qui s’en viennent. C’est ça qui me motive pour les monuments de l’odyssée acadienne d’avoir le plus de ces monuments-là avec les données correctes et durables puis les plaques qu’on peut découvrir » (entretien OA11)
The ultimate goal is to preserve cultural knowledge and traditional skills. In Canada and Louisiana the transfer of knowledge happens through demonstrations.
“He was building nets, he was showing how it’s done, how he makes knots and makes sur the stitch is always the same size, ect.” (translation, interview PA12)
In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, cultural knowledge holders pass on their knowledge to the public through media interviews and through demonstrations as we’ve seen. In Louisiana, some cultural programs go beyond demonstrating the skills and offer an opportunity to visitors to participate actively in the making of traditional objects with the help of an expert from the community, a knowledge holder. In Erath, the Living Legends program honors these knowledge holders and community elders.
“It went from Living Traditions of Erath, to Living Legends. Where, instead of putting on a demonstration…they would actually make an accordion. They would make a guitar. They would make a chair. And, they would show you how to do it. So, what we decided to do is just honor people.”
The emotional link between the self and the place is called “place attachment”. (Hidalgo and Hernandez 2001). Place identify is the identification of the visitor to a place or with its symbolic value. Affective attachment is the strong feeling a visitor feels towards a place. The social bond is the social relations a place enhances (ramkisoon et al 2012). The more iconic the tourist attraction, the more visitors sense an attachment to place and the more they perceive it as authentic. (p. 112)
Guided tours on the grounds offer visitors a learning experience which transmits information about farming life, historical facts, and the land of old Acadia.
“…it was a privilege to be at the place where the deportation happens…to see the trees, the earth, the grass, all of this and to think that our ancestors didn’t have any other place to live in than that…” (PA12)
When visiting a site, the visitor uses insightfulness, an emotional state of mind as they interact with the attraction setting through using their own personal meanings as a context and benefitting from the experience. This is an associative and affective process rather than cognitive.
« …an understanding of the experiential thought processes and reactions of tourists to their surrounding environment arguably provides a greater insight into the nature of what is actually being derived from visiting, than a concern for whether factual knowledge has been attained… » (p. 609)
Source: Mcintosh, A. Prentice, R. (1999), Affirming Authenticity: Consuming Cultural Heritage, Annals of Tourism research, 26(3), 589-612.
In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation process asks Acadians to recognize the impact of the colonial experience after the deportation. There is still a lot to be done. This study reveals 4 points of action:
- Recognize that the land colonized by Acadians belonged to Indigenous peoples before they arrived.
- Create positive relationships and encourage exchanges, understand the colonial history, and listen.
- Consult with First Nations about heritage conservation.
- Represent the Mi’kmaq people and recognize their role and their presence.
It’s important to have the difficult conversations about racism and slavery in Louisiana. Moreover, the contribution of black Creole is rarely recognized by Louisiana museums. “I could count the black zydeco musicians who have played here.” (Entretien OL1)
The different cultures Cajun, Creole, Indigenous are inter-laced in their history. “Because you can’t talk about Cajun culture without talking in large part that the Cajun culture is African. Because we grew up, we were often raised by Africans…” (translation, OL3)
Hiring people who reflect the diversity of the Louisiana community and the Creole people allows Museums and Interpretation Centers to offer a more representative reality of history and of Cajun heritage. Being inclusive and ensuring the atmosphere is welcoming to all one respondent suggests, means recognizing not just Cajuns but also Creoles, and Indigenous, and Spanish cultures which were all present in Louisiana.
With time a reconciliation between Acadians and Anglophones took place in the community. It seems there is a recognition and mutual respect among contemporary Acadians that the shared space also belongs to Anglophones. The anglophone community seems to want to learn about Acadian history.
The sharing of built heritage is reflected in the interpretation of colonial history in museums. Two groups offering diverging histories that represent different periods in time.
“…in 1922, Acadians built the church, is was meant as more than an Acadian museum, it was a museum about the colonial history of Nova Scotia. So, the people who had deported the Acadians…they were also in the Grand Pre church (interview OA8)
In Louisiana, French language schools are almost non-existent. Heritage institutions do the work of preserving the language. We also see the term “French speaking people” used, indicating there is a Francophone collective identity. Activities like language exchanges, French soirees with music and cooking, the sale of French books, bilingual placards on the site are all part of the linguistic knowledge transfer. Acadians are part of the larger French speaking collective who live as linguistic minorities in Canada. The risk of assimilation is always present. Among Acadians there is also a movement of accepting Acadian French (Chiac). In Louisiana we see “Cajun French” distinguish itself from standard French.
- Ashmore, R., Deaux, K., Mclaughlin-Volpe, T. (2004), An Organizing Framework for Collective Identity: Articulation and Significance of Multidimensionality, American Psychological Bulletin, 130(1), p. 80-114.
- Hidalgo, C., & Hernandez, B. (2001). Place attachment: conceptual and empirical Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21(3), 273e281.
- Kleres, J. (2010), Emotions and Narrative Analysis: A Methodological Approach, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 41(2), 182-202.
- Mcintosh, A. Prentice, R. Affirming Authenticity: Consuming Cultural Heritage, Annals of Tourism Research, 26(3), 589-612. (1999)
- Ram, Y., Bjork, P., Weidenfeld, A. (2016), Authenticity and place attachment of major visitor attractions, Tourism Management, No. 52, 110-122.
- Ramkinssoon, H., Weiler, B., & Smith, G. (2012). Place attachment and proenvironmental behavior in national parks: the development of a conceptual framework. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 20(2), 257e276.