Friday, April 22, 2016

The Acadians take the Royal tour

The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, who encouraged us to "learn more about John A. Macdonald's life and vision for a country that values diversity, democracy and freedom", has recently said that "being a constitutional monarchy was a decision that we made." When exactly did we make that decision? I think it was a decision that was forced upon us and we eventually acquiesced to it to some degree. But nonetheless, the vast majority of Quebecers still reject monarchy despite the endless supply of colonised little buffoons like Mélanie.

In any case, let's mark the Queen's 90th birthday by reminiscing a little about the time that the Acadians "made the decision" to accept the British monarchy. In 2002, a group of seven Acadian historians decided to set the record straight after centuries of historical whitewash and the result was called the Beaubassin Manifesto. Here it is...


Grand-Pré: Round them up and ship them out
We, Acadians, are the survivors of genocide.

Genocide is defined as “the systematic destruction of a people or an ethnic group”; this definition corresponds perfectly to the events of 1755, as British intentions at the time were well and truly to destroy a people and its culture. The Acadians were chased, dispossessed, starved and killed; their crops and homes were burned and their cattle killed or stolen. Furthermore, in order to insure the disappearance of the Acadians as a people, the British took pains to systematically divide them into small groups so as to force them to disperse in the thirteen Anglo-American colonies, while denying them the right to move. The British thus forced the disintegration of a society based on the family and their assimilation into the Anglophone colonies on the continent. In light of these facts, it is clear that the British authorities were guilty of genocide.

Half of our people lost their lives as a result, either directly or indirectly, of this exile imposed by the British. Consequently, on an estimated population of 15000 to 18000 people, from 7500 to 9000 people died, mostly the weak such as children. Several factors explain this high mortality rate: the crowded conditions onboard ships (where food and water were insufficient), the epidemics caused by the unhygienic conditions of the voyage, the cold-blooded murder of many Acadians, as well as the order given by Lawrence [1] to starve out the Acadians hiding in the woods. The loss for our ancestors was therefore immense: they were dispossessed of their fertile lands, of their goods and possessions and they had to suffer the dislocation of their society, the disintegration of their culture, along with the enormous loss of life. The British used the banal term of “deportation” to describe this crime. We have enabled this distortion by using our own expression of “Grand Dérangement” (Great Disruption) so as to attenuate our tragedy.

On their side, the victors try to rewrite their own history in an attempt to justify themselves in the eyes of future generations. They also try to constrain us, the descendants of their victims, to accept this revisionist history by threatening those who would tell the truth with major sanctions. [2] This threat of sanctions was sufficient to create a silence amongst our people that has lasted for over 250 years. Right up to the present day, our schools offer a very limited view of our history, and this, out of “respect” towards the conquering people. Thus, we don’t speak of the horrors of “genocide” but of a “deportation.” Only the most audacious books speak of an “ethnic cleansing.”

What are the effects of these lies on the evolution of our people? For us, the signatories, the consequence is obvious: we have lost touch with our history prior to 1755, that is, we have been forced to deny collectively the tragic elements of the period from 1755 to 1763. We assert that the Acadian people are suffering from a kind of collective amnesia: we do not celebrate our heroes; we do not commemorate the important achievements of the Acadian people during its colonial period. We don’t insist either on the success of the alliance and friendship between the Mi’kmaq and Acadian peoples, a friendship that survived all of the trials of the conquests and was broken only by the murderous acts of the British authorities. The Mi’kmaqs and the Acadians built a culture from the symbiosis between the two peoples, a culture that existed outside of the monarchist tradition and in an egalitarian context.

The reality of Acadia prior of 1755 has unfortunately been replaced by the myth of Évangéline. This fictitious character, created by Longfellow, reinforced the image of a conquered people. Évangéline is not history, but a story depicting a servile and victimized people, and it’s this image that we cultivate to this day. How else do you explain that the only Acadian university carries the name of one of those responsible for the Deportation with much of the blood on his hands, namely Robert Monckton? Why isn’t there a monument commemorating the 7500 to 9000 dead of the Deportation? These facts can only be explained by the collective amnesia of the Acadian people.

By not recognizing the importance of the Deportation and its consequences, we cannot properly appropriate our people’s history. Such a consciousness of our history is essential, because without it, it’s impossible for us to live our present lives and anticipate our future. The collective memory of the Acadian people can only be recovered if Acadians become intimately aware of the horrors of the events that bloodied the Acadian coasts. The loss suffered by our ancestors was immense: they were dispossessed of their fertile lands, of their goods and possessions and had to suffer the dislocation of their society, the disintegration of their culture, as well as enormous loss of life.

In order to justify their actions, the British authorities went as far as to pretend that the Acadians refused to swear allegiance to the Crown. Documents from the period demonstrate that in fact it was only a pretext for the Deportation. For one, the Acadian people already swore allegiance. For another, Lawrence already clearly indicated his desire to deport the Acadians. In a letter dated August 9th 1755, he affirms: “I will propose to them the Oath of Allegiance a last time. If they refuse, we will have in that refusal a pretext for the expulsion. If they accept, I will refuse them the Oath, by applying to them the decree which prohibits from taking the Oath all persons who have once refused to take it. IN BOTH CASES I SHALL DEPORT THEM.

The reasons explaining the Deportation are multiple and complex. But two motives are clearly invoked by the British to justify the Deportation. First of all, Lawrence’s correspondence explicitly demonstrates that the Deportation was seen as a measure against a people that the British perceived as a dangerous threat to the security of the territory of Nova-Scotia, due to the alliance of the Acadian people with the Mi’kmaqs, its proximity with Canada and its close ties with France. Another British motive for the deportation of the Acadian people was the illegal appropriation of our ancestors’ fertile lands: “if we succeed in expulsing them, such an exploit would be the greatest that the English accomplished in America, for all will say that in the part of this province occupied by the French are the richest lands in the world. We can then put in their place good English farmers, and we shall soon see an abundance of agricultural products in that province.”[3]

But, what entitles us to seek justice is that the Deportation was even illegal according to British law. It is undeniable that the Deportation was illegal for the following reasons:

  1. In 1755, the Acadians were British subjects. In peace time, the law stipulate that their rights cannot be infringed upon.
  2. Still with respect to British law, the theft of Acadian lands constitutes an illegal act.
  3. As a result of Lawrence’s orders, many Acadians suffered significant damages and others were even executed.[4]
  4. Following the armed rebellion of a dozen Acadians, the British decided to punish an entire innocent people, women and children included, thereby turning all Acadians into a nation of rebels. However, according to the law of the time, only those found guilty of a crime should be punished for that crime.

[1] “If softer methods do not work then you shall have recourse to more energetic methods to embark them and to deny to those who flee any possibility of shelter, by burning their homes and by destroying anything in the land that might provide them sustenance (…)” Letter from Lawrence to Winslow, August 1755.

[2] As one example among many others, we can cite the re-francization campaign launched in Moncton in 1934 by certain people in L’Assomption. They wrote letters inciting the Acadian population to demand services in French in stores. In response, the Anglophones of Moncton immediately boycotted stores belonging to Acadians. In view of this, the Acadians were forced to abandon their campaign.

[3] Letter dated the 9th of August 1755, published in the New York Gazette on the 25th of the same month and in the Pennsylvania Gazette the 4th of September.

[4] Lawrence offered the equivalent of $30 for a scalp from an Acadian man and $25 for a scalp from an Acadian woman, child or a Mi’kmaq.

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