MONCTON, NEW BRUNSWICK — For a century following deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the Acadians in Louisiana and to the north kept a low profile, Warren Perrin, author, attorney and founder of the Acadian Museum in Erath, Louisiana, said.
"After the deportation there was a century of silence. We disappeared," Perrin said Sunday speaking at the Louisiana Pavilion at Extreme Frontier during Sunday's celebration of the Acadians at Congrès Mondial Acadien.
In 1847, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his epic poem, "Evangeline," about an Acadian couple separated by the expulsion. It soared in popularity, Perrin said, igniting an awakening among the Acadians who had returned to their homeland. Their interest in recovering the Acadian culture didn't take hold in Louisiana, where the Acadians, like others in the South, were trying to survive the Civil War.
The Acadians in Canada proceeded with their plans. Judge Joseph Breaux of New Iberia, Perrin said, went to Canada for a convention the Acadians held in 1902 where they discussed the possible reunification of Acadia as a nation, as a race. It still took decades for Louisiana's Acadians to awaken.
In 1921, Louisiana declared only English was allowed in the classroom.
"It's funny because it's one line (in a larger education bill). I was gobsmacked when I saw it," Matt Mick, director of communications for CODOFIL, said in an interview with The Acadiana Advocate in Moncton on Sunday.
Many credit that single declaration with the near loss of the Cajun language over several generations. While it didn't help, there were other contributing factors, Mick said, such as people wanting to become "American" and take advantage of more opportunities.
Passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1963, Perrin said, laid the path for the Louisiana Acadian renaissance. Gov. John McKeithen and state Rep. Jimmy Domengeaux passed legislation creating the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and in 1971, the state Legislature designated 22 South Louisiana parishes Acadiana, he said.
"The French Renaissance of the early 1970s was the result of us going through years of it being against the law to speak French in public buildings," Perrin said.
Today, Mick said there are 34 schools in Louisiana with CODOFIL teachers, and while the organization has been criticized in the past for not teaching the common Cajun French , that's changing. Some young people who learn traditional French adapt it to include the Cajun French of their ancestors, he said.
"People talk about it like it’s lost, like it’s gone forever," Mick said. "But that’s not necessarily the case."