monthly report 2014


Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

December 3, 2014

Arriving in the African night, nothing particularly surprising until we enter the terminal.  The welcome committee is composed of several people in Ebola suits: white plastic overalls, blue latex gloves and a face mask.  Each one of us has his temperature taken by a pistol held to our foreheads.  No one seems to have a fever and so we head to the immigration agents, each one hiding behind a plexi-glass screen with just enough holes in it to make conversation impossible.  Meanwhile the Ebola temperature screeners go back to the corner and sit forlornly like beings from another planet.

 Angélique Kidjo is recognized by the immigration agent, or rather, makes her presence known.

“You don’t recognize me?” she asks.

“You don’t recognize Angélique Kidjo?” she continues with an air of disdain.

The agent is apologetic.

“You see him?” she continues, pointing at me, “That is my brother from New Orleans.  Be nice to him.”

Thus commences a long ordeal.  We pass the first control point and proceed to the next, the second being much more of a pain.  This second control is for the creation of a “bionic” visa.  Seated in front of a small machine, we are obliged to pose our index fingers and thumbs.  The machine takes our fingerprints and will spit out a “bionic” visa including a photo which is to be pasted into our passports.  Apparently the machine doesn’t like U.S. passports.  All of our friends move on to baggage claim while Claude and I sit waiting. Behind the white wall with the plexi-glass screen, the agents are arguing loudly, waving their arms.  I have no idea what they are saying but I take this as a bad sign.  Finally, however, we obtain our “bionic” visas and are able to rejoin our friends at baggage claim.  Customs is easier that immigration.  In fact there is no customs agent.  We fetch our stuff and roll out of the terminal.  Our baggage cart has seen it’s better days and the front wheel has the hiccups, bouncing constantly as we move along. 

We exit the terminal and plunge into the tropical night.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people crushed against the barricades between which we pass.  I have no idea if they have come to meet someone or if they have simply come to see what’s going on, the Senegalese equivalent of television reality.  We push past them and into the parking lot.  There are two buses waiting for us.  There’s not enough room for our luggage in the bus and so our suitcases are piled on the roof.  I keep my guitar on my knees.  In seems to take hours to get everybody seated and the luggage stored, even though there are only a dozen of us.  We pull out of the parking lot and plunge into the night.  There are people everywhere, hundreds of people walking in the road.  The city is fascinating and weird, but I feel surprisingly at ease.

We head into the heart of Dakar, across the Place de l’Indépendance, arriving at the gates of the Hotel Tangara.  The hotel is a little fortress.  The entrance is guarded by a barricade manned by a host of soldiers with M-16s draped across their chests, barrels pointed to the ground, but fingers on the trigger.  There are soldiers everywhere, and from many different outfits.  Soldiers in camouflage, soldiers in black, soldiers in blue.  Most of them are wearing berets: blue berets, red berets, and all of them are wearing sunglasses, even at night.  They all have very nice boots compared to the people who wear old tennis shoes, or leather babouches, or nothing at all on their feet. 

To enter the hotel, we have to go through another security screening.  Our suitcases are passed through a screener and we ourselves have to pass through a metal detector.  One gets used to these constant little incursions into the third world, but the general impression is that they are more aggravating than effective.  Finally in our hotel room, too tired to go out, Claude and I have a dinner of ginger peanuts and water. 

The next morning we are awoken early by the ear shattering sounds of a construction site which is literally just beneath our hotel window.  Everywhere in Dakar there is construction going up.  I open the sliding doors and step out onto the tiny balcony.  The day is bright and sunny, the light beautifully clear.  The view, in spite of the construction, is magnificent.  The hotel overlooks the Bay of Dakar. Green palm trees and deep red bougainvilliers and the Atlantic Ocean just below.

There are black kites everywhere.  They float in large ragged flocks over the city and out into the bay.  Unusual to see so many birds of prey flying together.  There are very few pigeons, however, probably because there are so many black kites.  Off in the distance is l’Île de Gorée.  I get a strange feeling looking out on what was the point of departure for so many African slaves on their sorrowful journey to America.  I am saddened especially since the fires are raging tonight in Ferguson Missouri.  They remind us that we have not finished nor are likely to finish any time soon with the heavy dark karma of that terrible trade.

At noon, accompanied by Diane Dufresne and her manager husband Richard Langevin, we head to the venue.  In the lobby, we run into Michaëlle Jean, former Governor-General of Canada and candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Organisation International de la Francophonie.   She explains that she had a bad night.  She had gone out on the balcony and the door closed and locked behind her.  She waited forlornly on the sixth floor overlooking the construction site, for somebody to pass.  An hour later, she finally saw someone in the street, and called out, screaming at the top of her lungs.  In spite of this incident, or maybe because of it, I think she would be a remarkable Secretary General.  She’s up against the old boy network, however, her four rivals all being African men.

We leave the tumult of the city and take the hiway to Diamniadio, passing in front of the train station.  It looks abandoned, and I wonder if there are any trains running still.  Leaving the city center, the neighborhoods look more and more desperate.  We pass through sections of the city that look very difficult, and on the edge of town travel through a large shanty town.  Everywhere the black kites are flying overhead.

It takes an hour to arrive at Diamniadio.  In the middle of an arid ocre colored plain suddenly springs an oasis of modernity.  At the center of the compound is a brand new building.  The style is ultra-modern with clean lines done up in grey colored stone and metal.  Around the building like dancers around a griot are several white circus style tents and big trucks belonging to Senegalese television.  We enter through the artists’ entrance at the back.  The architect was probably a pigmy or forgot about the height of normal people.  I have to bend over quite a bit not to hit my head.  The interior is spotless and very chic.  We park ourselves in one of the dressing rooms filled will all kinds of food, none of which I touch except the ginger juice that I consume in quantity.  The rehearsal goes very well.  It is obvious that no expense has been spared.  The tech crew is first class and the infrastructure for the show is first class all the way.  Just behind the stage area are the 77 big leather chairs, now empty, where the heads of state will sit during the show. 

The show is a narrative: two children set out to find their father.  Their journey takes them throughout the French-speaking world (Francophonie) on a voyage of discovery.  The two children are bright and charming, Gérard and Lolita, 8 and 12 years old.  He wants to be a scientist.  She doesn’t know yet.  We finish the rehearsal and head back to Dakar.  We are invited to the Lagon, a restaurant on the beach just below the hotel.  The dinner is fun, and very friendly, all of the artists gathered around two tables, swapping stories, laughing.  I am wearing the citronelle bracelet given to me by Angélique Kidjo, meant to keep the mosquitos, and the malaria, at bay.  I have a local fish, kassaw, and a dessert and say good night.  I want to get a good night’s rest after the travelling of these last few days and especially since the lobby call is for 7 AM.

I am pulled from a peaceful dream by the alarm at 6:30.  Gulping a cup of green tea, I head to the lobby.  On the road to Diamniadio there are very few cars, but lots of military.  They are concentrated at the toll booths and spread out along the road, a soldier every 500 yards wearing camouflage and a bright orange construction vest.  They all look bored.  Arriving on site we are diverted from the back stage road by a very determined guard with the ubiquitous sunglasses and M-16 and so we park amidst the tour buses on the bare earth, color of dried blood.  We have to carry our instruments a pretty long way to the hall, but there will be no discussion with the guard.  Afriki system.  Once we make it to the hall, we wait.  The show is supposed to start at 10AM, but at 11AM, we are still waiting for the heads of state to take their extra-wide leather seats.  Too many roosters in the barnyard. 

The show is marvelous.  I get almost everybody to sing along with one of my best known songs Travailler c’est trop dur (Working is too hard).  I say almost everybody.  I don’t think that neither the President of France nor the Prime Minister of Canada actually sang along.  I am not sure I would want to hear either one of them anyway.  Immediately after the show we are back in the parking lot hauling our gear and then on the road to Dakar.  Lunch at the hotel and on to the airport.  We have to fill out a health card to help track ebola.  Do you have a fever? Have you been with anyone with Ebola? The card will stay in my pocket until I am back in Paris and throw it away.  Six hours back to Paris.  We arrive in this northern burg in the cold, the warmth of Africa melted like a dream, leaving behind bright colored memories.

The next day I hear that Michaëlle Jean was chosen to head the Organisation International de la Francophonie.  I am happy for her.  She is a hard worker and dedicated and I am proud that all of those roosters picked a hen to keep things straight in the coop.  




September 27, 2014

This report is in interview by Catherine Shoeffler Comeaux and deals with poetry and language.  Thanks to Catherine for the pertinent questions.

1. Your hometown audience knows you well for your talent as a musician.  I understand you write poetry as well.  What led you to poetry?  

My creative and professional life were both formed in 1968.  It was then that I, a guitar playing hippy, began to write songs and poems (It would be years before I discovered Cajun music and got an accordion).  The major influences on my songwriting were the American songwriters of the day: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, just to name three.  In 1970, I met Allen Ginsberg on the quadrangle at Tulane University.  It was a chance encounter that certainly had little importance for Ginsburg, but would change my life.  He had come to the university to do a presentation and was sitting alone playing a harmonium and chanting.  I sat beside him.  He taught me a mantra and the rest, as they say, is history.  Although I was greatly influenced by all of the so-called Beats, it was Gary Snyder who has been the greatest influence on my style.  That said, I must mention Kerouac (who I discovered much later was a French speaking son of the Québécois diaspora in New England).  Jean Louis aka Jack Kerouac had a significant philosophical influence on both my poetics and my life.  My early poems, as my early songs, were English language.  I did not begin to write in French until my first encounter with Québec in 1974.  I have never been published in English (I still have dozens of rejection notices from most of the major U.S. poetry publications that I had sent around in the early 1970s as well as 3 unpublished collections) but am preparing to publish my 4th volume of French language poetry.  My 3rd French book of poetry, Faire Récolte, was awarded the Prix Champlain in Québec and the Prix Roland Gasparic in Budapest, Roumania.  

2. Can you speak to the difference that occurs in the creative process when some ideas become lyrics and others poetry?  Do certain emotions lead you one way or the other? Or is your poetry simply words waiting for a melody?  

Poetry and song-writing are first cousins.  The nature of both comprises similar elements: words, rhythm, the sounds of words (rime), and a sense of melody.  I am grateful to be able to do both because they compliment one another.  My poetry is free verse and so I am able to play with sentence structure, syntax and meaning in ways that are not possible in the popular song.  My song-writing, on the other hand, is very strictly defined.  Usually, in my style at least, the sentences are of a predictable length, often alexandrines, with a very rigorous rime scheme.  Songwriting offers me the possibility of expressing myself in a well defined format, while poetry allows me the freedom to explore language and meaning that would not resonate well in the folk song genre.  

3. I understand you have been influenced by poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. What inspires you about these two poets?  What poets have you been enjoying lately?  Have any new poets caught your attention?

I still refer to the classic, who include Ginsberg, Snyder, Kerouac, but also Ferlinghetti, Corso, Levertov.  I think the greatest poet of all times was W.B. Yeats.  I admire Walt Whitman, e e Cummings.  As you can see, my references are primarily Anglophone.  I have a great fondness for the Japanese master Basho, but unfortunately I have to read him in translation.  The same with Chilien poet Pablo Néruda.  I am not familiar with French language poetry except that of North America.  The Québécois poet Gaston Miron is a giant, but there are others who have influenced me greatly, starting with Gérald LeBlanc.  Gérald was a friend and a spiritual brother to me.  He was also the editor and publisher of Faire Récolte.  Other North American poets to whom I feel a strong bond are Herménégilde Chiasson and Roger Levéille.  I am also very inspired by the Innu poets Rita Metoshoko and Joséphine Bacon.  The greatest among us, however, in my opinion, is the Franco-Ontarian poet Patrice Desbiens.  I would be remiss should I not mention my Louisiana French language colleagues.  Jean Arceneaux, David Cheramie and Debbie Clifton are creating works that are an important part of our literary heritage, not only in Louisiana but also in the world.  The internationally acclaimed Acadian author, Antonine Maillet, once told me that poetry is the bridge between an oral tradition and the novel.  Given the depth of Louisian French language poetry, I do not doubt but that we are well on the way to create a complete French language literature in Louisiana.  My most recent discoveries have been Louisiana francophone poet Kirby Jambon, recent recipient of the Prix de l’Académie Française (that’s right) and the young Québecois David Goudreault.

4. You write (and live) in both French and English.   Could you speak to how the French language in North America, like all languages, is changing?  I’m specifically thinking of the great language exchange that has been facilitated by the likes of Congres Mondial, CODOFIL, the worldwide appeal of Cajun /zydeco music, and so on.   What part does poetry play in this exchange?

Please refer to my blog of July 15, 2014.  What is happening in South Louisiana in terms of ethnic identity is completely language determined.  There are two parallel phenomenon.  On the one hand there is a new generation of young “Cajuns” who are functionally monolingual Anglophone.  Which does not prevent them from identifying themselves strongly as “Cajun”.  This identity is based on heritage, life style and personal affiliation.  On the other hand the French speaking community is evolving to a larger more inclusive identity which I would call “Louisiana Francophone” as opposed to strictly “Cadien”.  The days of the native French speakers (those whose maternal language is French) are drawing to a close.  With the demise of this generation, a new French speaking collective is emerging.  This community is not specifically “Cadien” although most of its members would identify themselves as such.  This group includes international French speakers (largely the professional educators who are teaching French immersion) as well as Louisiana French speakers who do not consider themselves specifically Cajun.  This is very exciting to me.  The “new generation Francophones” identify strongly with the international French community through organizations such as the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques and events such as Congrès Mondial etc.  For many years the French speaking community was plagued by a sectarian mentality (pro versus anti Codofil).  Many native French speakers did not identity with the international style French being taught in the schools, and Codofil was often seen as a condescending force of colonization.  Codofil was under the mistaken notion that native Louisiana French was a sub-standard form and that the native French needed to be uprooted somehow.  We understand now that both of these points of view are misguided.  As I say in my blog of September 5. “While it is evident that Louisiana or Cajun French is unique, it is not true, as some have claimed, that it is a separate and distinct language.  Cajun French has a unique vocabulary, a distinctive syntax style, a particular accent and a wealth of idiomatic expressions.  It is French, however, with the same basic grammar and vocabulary as that which is spoken around the world.”  Today we understand that the salvation of French in Louisiana will be through education and specifically French immersion which is not only a cultural tool, but also, and more importantly, a tremendous educational opportunity (French immersion students outperform their socio-economic peers on standard English language battery exams, and by a significant margin).   It is inevitable that the French language of Louisiana will evolve, losing some of its colloquialisms in the process.  This is the nature of the evolution of language.  What is important is that our young students speak French, not whether they roll their “rs”.

5. What does the future of poetry look like? 

The most important development in poetry in the last 50 years (since the arrival of the Beats in the 1950s) is the onset of rap.  Rap music has gone well beyond the confines of a principally black, principally urban phenomenon. (Witness the success of groups like Radio Radio and Loco Locass and rap groups of just about every language on Earth).  Spoken word and Slam are reaching a new young hip audience.  Call it what you will, this is poetry.  Poetry has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended), not because it is boring, but because it was (and still is) poorly taught.  Poetry is not some old dead person’s uninspiring babble, real poetry is the living word, it is the expression of human emotion in rhythm. Music preceded poetry.  Chimpanzees beat on trees to communicate with each other when they cross the forest, but it was the onset of language which allowed the human spirit to realize itself.  As the bible says in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  In the Dogon creation myth, the ancestors initially communicated by means of cries and grunts until one of the Nommo twins, the master of water, life, speech, and fertility, taught them language.  The association of speech to water, life and fertility is very telling.  In the Dogon view, language is as fundamental to human life as water and fertility. 

In my view, poetry needs to be redeemed from its poor reputation.  Poetry is NOT words spread out over a page.  Poetry is a living breathing expression in the same spirit as the popular song.  Imagine never hearing a song, but only reading the lyrics.  That is, however, the way that most people experience poetry.  No wonder most people think it’s boring.  Poetry should be read aloud, it should be heard, it should be listened to “live”.   The internet offers an incredible opportunity for the distribution of the spoken word.  Over the next few months, I will be reading and uploading much of my poetry on-line in order to share the true experience of poetry with listeners around the world.   UL Press will be re-publishing “Faire Récolte” in November and I will be uploading and making available 23 poems.  With many more to come. 

6. The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra’s concert series takes “fire” as its theme this season.  I see you have a collection of poetry entitled, “Feu.”  Can you share a poem from that collection that best exemplifies your poetry?  Are you working on any new poems now? 

The biggest success of the recent Congrès Mondial, in my opinion, was the soirée de poésie louisianaise.  We were four poets accompanied by musicians Steve Riley and Sam Broussard.  The experience was so rewarding for all of us that we are anxious to recreate the event for a Louisiana audience and as Dewey Balfa said about Newport in 1964: “let the people back home hear the thunder of the applause.”  As Louisiana French poet laureate, I am working on two projects which are very exciting: a poetry contest for students in French Immersion and a statewide tour of “Les Cenelles”.  An original copy has been located of Les Cenelles and in collaboration with the State Library and the LEH, we will be touring the State beginning in September 2015 to tell the story of the most important collection of Black Creole French language poetry ever written (New Orleans, 1848). 

7.Beyond  your website,  is it possible to buy your books of poetry (and or children’s books) in Acadiana? 

UL Press is re-releasing Faire Récolte in November as well as a new collection “Outre le mont” in May, 2015.  Otherwise I have two other collections (Feu & Voyage de nuit) available on my website as well as 3 illustrated fables (not really children’s books, but fables in the tradition of Assop or the Brothers Grimm with a “Cadien” twist.)  Beginning in November, I will be making available readings on line (I already have some English language poems posted, but will be developing this section of my web site, particularly the French poems with readings, over the next year. 

 




September 5, 2014

French in the USA

There is growing momentum in the United States for French language education.  This development is part of the growing awareness of the advantages of language pluralism both as an educational and economic tool.  The repercussions of this are being felt strongly in the traditional French language communities.

The French-speaking residents of Louisiana have entered a very dynamic period which corresponds to the arrival on the scene of a new young generation of Francophones who have a strong relation with international “Francophonie”.  The French speaking community in Louisiana is evolving from an isolated and inward looking segment of society towards one which is open to outside, cross cultural influences while being strongly attached to its own cultural traditions.  We have come a long way from a sectarian ethnocentric vision of French which rejected outside influence in an attempt to insure the “purity” of Louisiana French.  For many years, the presence of French teachers from outside of Louisiana was criticized.  

In a misguided attempt to maintain the French of Louisiana, the educational policies of Codofil (The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) were condemned.  It was felt that the presence of French teachers from France, Québec and elsewhere was detrimental to the perseveration of the Cajun French language.  While it is evident that Louisiana or Cajun French is unique, it is not true, as some have claimed, that it is a separate and distinct language.  Cajun French has a unique vocabulary, a distinctive syntax style, a particular accent and a wealth of idiomatic expressions.  It is French, however, with the same basic grammar and vocabulary as that which is spoken around the world. The community was split between the purists who believed that the teaching of “international” French would destroy the Cajun language and the supporters of Codofil who believed that the salvation of French in Louisiana was to be achieved through the teaching of a standard form.

Today the two points of view have been reconciled.  We have come to understand that the preservation of French in Louisiana will be achieved through education, and that the only way of preserving the language is to create a community that can read and write it.   In this process, it is inevitable that some of our local expressions will be modified or even lost.  This is the natural evolution of any language.  I do not deplore the international influence.  Thanks to the French teachers who have come to Louisiana from throughout the world, our children are able to read, write and speak French.  It does not matter to me whether they have the accent and the syntax style of my grandparents.  What is important is that they speak French.

We have finally understood that the French we speak in Louisiana is just that: French.  Not some exotic and incomprehensible dialect, but a branch of French evolved from the speech of 18th century western France and forged in the crucible of Louisiana experience.  We have also understood that education is fundamental to the survival of French in Louisiana. 

Today the identity of Louisiana French speakers is evolving from an ethno-centric xenophobic point of view to one which is open to the French-speaking world.  This identity is open and inclusive. This positive development is largely due to the fact that the earliest French immersion students are now entering adulthood and are assuming an important role in the community as parents themselves. 

At the same time, there is the convergence of positive influences some of which are political.  In the last legislative session (2014), Representative Stephen Ortego sponsored a bill on bilingual signage which was passed into law and which has been received enthusiastically in the traditionally French parishes.   Under the conditions of the law, parishes which wish to replace road and street signs will be able to do so with bilingual ones.  This might not be a “ground changer”, but it does indicate a positive perception of the French language.  Even more important is a bill written by Representative Ortego which will give access to French immersion to all of the school children of Louisiana.  There is presently a waiting list of hundreds of school children for the programs.  The proposed law will give access to French immersion to all of the students of the public schools provided that a quota of 25 students per school is attained.   It should be pointed out that Stephen Ortego is a graduate of the Young Ambassadors program of the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques and is the youngest member of the Louisiana legislature.

At the other end of the country, another French community is spreading its wings.   The Franco-American / Acadian community of Maine (as well as that of New England) is affirming itself.  Louisiana and Maine each have a unique history and the social context is different, but there are many similarities which draw the two together.  For a long period, both the Cajuns of Louisiana and the Franco-Americans of Maine suffered from the prejudice of the Anglo-American majority.  Both communities have suffered considerable loss of French speakers through assimilation.  In both communities, a closeted sense of inferiority viz-à-viz the Anglo majority culture remains.   The Franco-Cajun community in Louisiana is finally overcoming its reluctance and is affirming its identity with more and more conviction thanks to the positive effects of French immersion education.  The Franco-American / Acadian community of Maine is struggling to find its path.

In Louisiana, Codofil exists since 1968 and thanks to the commitment of its first president, James Domengeaux, has benefited from cooperative agreements with France, Belgium and Québec that have insured Louisiana with a cadre of French language teachers.  Unfortunately this has not been the case in Maine.  In the 1970s Francophone leaders in the Pine Tree State focused their efforts on the bilingual programs sponsored by the U.S. government.  These programs were administered and implemented by Franco-Americans.  Immersion programs were resisted because it was felt that they would alter the nature of the French language in Maine, a point of view similar to that of the Louisiana “purists”.  The bilingual programs of the U.S. government were abandoned in the 1980s and the Franco-American / Acadian community of Maine has been unable to find a viable means of replacing them.

The proximity of Québec and Acadie also complicates the situation in Maine.  With French speaking communities so near yet so far  (just the other side of the Saint John river, yet on the other side of an international border) the Franco-American / Acadians struggle to create their own identity.  They do not enjoy the official recognition of their language as do their cousins in Canada and must find their place in a society which has often been hostile (Ku Klux Klansmen staged anti-French marches in the 1950s). Not easy.  I believe, however, that the French speaking communities of the Saint John valley, at Frenchville, St. Agatha, Fort Kent and Madawaska have all of the necessary tools to develop French language education adapted to their situation, one which recognizes their history and traditions.  It will take political will to implement this, however.  Events like the Congrès Mondial Acadien of 2014, during which several events were staged on the U.S. side of the border, will have a galvanizing effect on the Franco-American / Acadian community.  In light of the tremendous success of French immersion education in Louisiana, it is time to re-evaluate its pertinence for New England.  In any event, I believe that the Franco-American community will be swept up in the foreign language movement which is gaining ground across the country. 

Recently I attended the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French) convention.  I met Bill Rivers of the Language Policy Institute, an organization which promotes “foreign” language education across the country.  Mr. Rivers astounded me in describing the enormous success of the French immersion program in ………..Utah.  This arch-conservative state of the far west is best known for its Mormon community and its great salt lake.  It is, however, one of the bastions of French immersion in the country.  The citizens of Utah have discovered the immeasurable educational benefits of language immersion education.  It is only a matter of time before the news crosses the country to resonate in northern Maine.  




August 2, 2014

Don’t worry.  Be Acadian.

According to a recent study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, six of the top ten “happiest” cities in the U.S. are in Louisiana.  At the head of the list is my hometown of Lafayette.  The study evaluated satisfaction of residents based on age, income, race, sex and other factors.  It is surprising that the two cities at the top of the list, Lafayette and Houma, are the cities with the most important Cajun presence in the country. Surprising, or maybe not.

Lafayette is the Cajun metropolis (a big name for a little town - population 122,761 in 2012.  The Parish counts 227,055 inhabitants including me), and the so-called Capital of French Louisiana.  Houma (population 33,727) is the biggest town “down the bayou” and enjoys a large Cajun population.  The other Louisiana towns, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Alexandria are not “Cajun” towns, but maybe just got happy by osmosis.  Lake Charles (#8 on the list, population 73,474) is Cajun, or at least half-Cajun.  It was the first stop in the western migration of the 1930s as French-speaking inhabitants of the Cajun prairie headed west in search of work and a better life.  Most of them got no farther than Lake Charles.  It’s an ethnically mixed place, half-Cajun, half-Texan and proud of its French roots. 

What is it that these towns possess that make them the “happiest” in America, all of them within easy driving distance of one another?  It would be disingenuous to claim that this is due somehow to the Cajun heritage they share.  Without wanting to appear chauvinistic, I think, none the less, that there is something there.  I think that there is a common vision of life in South Louisiana that is directly related to our heritage and that which makes life there “happier”.

In 1873, the American lithographer A.R. Waud, upon encountering the Cajuns said: “These primitive people are the descendants of French Canadian colonists.  By inter-marriage they have been able to descent pretty low on the social ladder.  Without energy, education or ambition they represent the lowest class, backwards in everything.”  If we make abstraction of the prejudice with which Waud viewed the Cajuns, this episode is interesting because it indicates to what extent the Cajuns were outside of the American mainstream at the end of the 19th century and to what extent the Cajuns had a unique and separate culture.  For Waud and most Americans at the time, the Cajuns were totally incomprehensible. 

It was only a few years after the Acadian exiles arrived in Louisiana that there was a profound rupture in the community.  Acadian society before the Deportation (1755), was distinguished by its clan spirit.  Life in pre-dispersal Acadie depended on neither France nor England, but on the large extended family, on ones brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins.  The spirit of the clan was fundamental to Acadian culture and one’s allegiance was to one’s extended family.  To survive, to bring in the harvest or to build the dikes that protected the fields, one depended on one’s clan.  The exiles who followed Beausoleil Broussard to Louisiana were for the most part his cousins, including his first cousin, Pierre Richard, my ancestor.  This mutual assistance helped the Acadians to overcome the tremendous challenges of the Deporation and exile and this extended family spirit helped them on their arrival in Louisiana.  It continued without fail for a generation.  However, early in the 19th century an important change took place in the Acadian society of Louisiana that would have profound implications: the acquisition of slaves.

Within a generation of their arrival in Louisiana, many of the exiled Acadians acquired slaves.  For the most part this consisted of house slaves, mostly women, but there was a small minority of Acadians who were able to acquire large plantations with large numbers of slaves.  These Acadians developed a life style resembling that of their Anglo-American counterparts and as they did, their identity began to change.  They no longer considered themselves Acadians, a term which became more and more pejorative, but “Créole”, a term which was associated with the Franco-Spanish elite.   The acquisition of slaves by certain Acadians broke the bonds of community which their parents had shared.  A slave master did not need his cousins to help him harvest his crop.  These slave holding Acadians fully integrated the plantation system and practiced commercial agriculture of cotton and sugar cane on a large scale.

A deep divide grew in the Acadian society of Louisiana between the slaveholders and the “petit habitant” small farmers.  The planters no longer considered themselves “Acadian” and were more at ease in the company of their American counterparts with whom they shared social practices and increasingly, the English language.  The best example is that of Alexander Mouton.  Son of a deportee (his father, Jean, was born in 1754 at Grand Pré) he was a U.S. Senator, governor of Louisiana and president of the secession convention of 1860 which dissolved the union between Louisiana and the United States and plunged the region into four years of war and generations of poverty.    He was also the owner of 150 slaves.

While certain Acadians integrated the plantation system, the great majority of them remained self-sufficient small farmers and continued to live in the manner of their ancestors.  These subsistence farmers did not own slaves and lived simply on the fruits of their own labor.  For the cattlemen of the Attakapas prairie, owning slaves was of no advantage.  A man and his sons could maintain the herds without any outside help.  In this community, which counted the large majority of Acadians in Louisiana, the language and customs of their ancestors were preserved.

According to Waud, the Acadians, or “Cajuns” as they came to be known, were brutish and lazy.  For the Cajuns themselves, the priority was not the acquisition of material wealth, but the enjoyment of life.  To them, having a good life did not mean having lots of possessions, but rather having lots of pleasure with one’s family and friends. 

I do not want to make this too big a deal, but I do think that there is an element of truth in the idea that the inhabitants of Louisiana, Cajuns and non-Cajuns alike, enjoy a life style that puts a priority on celebration, on the “joie de vivre”.  We are a people that loves to celebrate and to celebrate together.  At the same time we are American and Americanized.  Cajuns are ambitious and enjoy the “finer things in life” as much as anybody from Missouri or Oregon.  None the less, it seems to me that our unique heritage affords us the possibility of seeing life from another angle.

I am as “Americanized” as anybody and I am not allergic to the “finer things in life”, but it seems to me that our heritage allows us the possibility to evaluate “happiness” under criteria that are ultimately much more rewarding than the simple calculation of material wealth.  There will be few who on their deathbed will regret not having owned more stuff, and fewer still who will regret not having worked more. 

Ultimately I find it very amusing that my little town in the middle of nowhere has been designated the “happiest town in America”.  It’s pretty silly, but at least it has given me this opportunity to encourage you to examine your priorities and to evaluate what is really important.  In the words of Henri Frederic Amiel: Life is short, be swift to love. 




July 15, 2014

 

Chers amis,  English translation will be available on July 17, 2014.  thank you for your patience. 

FRANCOPHONIE EN LOUISIANE

1) Quelle définition donneriez-vous à la francophonie/Francophonie louisianaise ?

Tout d’abord la communauté francophone en Louisiane a de multiples visages.  Il y a d’abord ceux et celles dont le français est leur langue maternelle.  Ce sont des gens assez âgés, et leur nombre continue à décroitre de façon fulgurante. Mes grands parents ont été de la dernière génération monolingue francophone.  Bien que la langue maternelle de mes parents était le français, ils parlent l’Anglais couramment. Leur relation avec la langue française est complexe et déterminé par une expérience d’assimilation parfois très difficile voire humiliante.  Après cette première communauté francophone native, il y a une deuxième génération qui est la mienne.  Nous, les francophones de Louisiane « post modernes », avons tous une relation professionnelle avec la francophonie surtout dans le domaine d’éducation ou dans le domaine culturel comme moi.  Depuis 1968, une communauté importante de francophone de partout, du Québec, d’Acadie, de France, de Belgique, d’Afrique et d’ailleurs est installée en Louisiane grâce aux programmes du Codofil.  Ce sont principalement des enseignants.  Leur relation avec la communauté francophone native de ma génération est très proche et leur influence sur l’évolution du français en Louisiane est très importante parce que ce sont les enseignants internationaux qui ont le plus d’effet sur le dernier élément de notre communauté francophone : les étudiants en immersion.  Aujourd’hui il a environ 6000 élèves dans les programmes d’immersion qui sont établis dans plusieurs écoles publiques surtout dans le sud de l’état.  Ces élèves représentent l’élément le plus important de la francophonie louisianaise en terme de nombre.  En plus, ils symbolisent l’avenir de la langue.  Leur français est internationalisé par la force des choses.  On peut se lamenter du fait que leur langue a perdu quelques éléments du parler natif (accent, style de syntaxe et vocabulaire), mais je crois que ce point de vue est fondamentalement rétrograde.  Le français en Louisiane doit évoluer s’il veut continuer d’exister, et le français que parlent les élèves en immersion est inévitablement influencé par la nature internationale de l’enseignement.  Ce n’est pas pour moi une question de bonne ou de mauvaise chose, mais tout simplement l’évolution du français en Louisiane.  Donc la francophonie en Louisiane est une communauté riche et complexe avec de divers éléments qui comprennent des francophones natives, des francophones d’ailleurs, et des jeunes francophones, élèves en immersion, qui sont en train de remodeler le français louisianais selon leur expérience. 

2) Les populations francophones de Louisiane souffrent-elles aujourd’hui d’une quelconque ségrégation ?

Les jours où on était humilié et / ou puni de parler le français à l’école sont terminés depuis longtemps.  C’était l’expérience de la génération de mes parents.  La loi de 1916 a obligé tous les parents en Louisiane d’envoyer ses enfants à l’école en créant un système d’éducation publique.  Les écoles ont été des institutions anglophones et une force considérable d’assimilation.  Bien que la génération de mes parents ait subi une assimilation assez brutale aux mains des enseignants de l’époque (pour la plupart des Cadiens issus de familles francophones mais qui avaient eu accès à l’éducation anglophone), ils ont gardé le français comme langue de choix entre eux.  Il s’est installé plusieurs zones où le choix de la langue parlée était imposé par un consensus naturel.  Par exemple dans ma famille, le français était la langue parlée en présence d’un vieux, c’est à dire un parent ou grand parent monolingue francophone.  Dans certaines autres situations, et surtout dans les institutions politiques et sociales, comme à l’école, à la banque et dans les entreprises, l’anglais était la langue dominante.  De ma génération, l’hégémonie de la langue anglaise est chose accompli et accepté.  Le nombre de francophones de ma génération représente une infime minorité.  Par contre, il n’y a plus la notion d’infériorité qui caractérisait la communauté francophone de la génération de mes parents.  Bien que le français n’est parlé par un petit nombre de gens actuellement, il est considéré un atout prestigieux.  Très souvent j’entends des gens de ma génération se lamenter du fait que leurs parents ne leur parlaient pas en français et donc qu’ils ne l’ont jamais appris.  La situation n’est pas sans une certaine ironie.  D’une part on regrette de ne pas pouvoir parler français, bien qu’on n’est souvent peu enclin au fait français.  La deuxième guerre mondiale a été l’événement marquant.  L’armée américaine a été une force irrésistible d’assimilation.  La majorité de la population mâle âgée entre 18 et 35 ans s’est enrôlée.  Beaucoup de jeunes soldats cadiens ont appris l’anglais à l’armée.  À leur retour, influencés par cette expérience et face à la dévalorisation générale du français, ils ont élevé leurs enfants en anglais. 

3) Les populations francophones de Louisiane peuvent-elles être considérées comme des minorités protégées ?   

Au contraire, l’expérience du français en Louisiane a été une expérience d’assimilation forcée.  Le français était méprisé et ceci depuis très longtemps.  La dévolution du français a commencé avec la vente du territoire par Napoléon I au président américain Thomas Jefferson.  La « Louisiane » en question comprenait un vaste territoire qui correspond à plusieurs états américains actuels.  Plusieurs « territories » ont été crées à partir de cet énorme superficie (quasiment le tiers de Etats-Unis) dont le territoire d’Orléans qui correspond à l’état actuel de la Louisiane.  Ce territoire a été conçu en quelque sorte comme un ghetto dans lequel on allait pouvoir y confiner les francophones.  Avec l’arrivée du premier gouverneur, C.C. Claiborne en 1804, un long combat entre l’aristocratie franco-espagnole (les Créoles) et le pouvoir américain est commencé.  On a réussi à conserver une présence française dans la législature où le français était reconnu.  Mais avec un stratège machiavélique très futé, les Américains, ne pouvant pas exclure le français de la législature ont réussi à le bannir des tribunaux. On pouvait promouvoir les lois en français mais il fallait les interpréter en anglais.  Avec l’installation du pouvoir économique, social et politique des Anglo-Américains, surtout après la Guerre de Sécession, le français a connu un lent déclin.  La loi sur l’éducation publique de 1916 et surtout la nouvelle constitution de 1920 qui a éliminé le français du discours officiel de l’état, ont été des évènements déterminants.   Mais c’est dans le domaine du social que le déclin du français se fait sentir le plus.  La génération de mes parents avait une relation ambiguë avec le français.  D’abord c’était leur langue maternelle et la seule langue que parlaient leurs parents, mes grands-parents.  Mais leur expérience socio-culturelle d’Américains, relayait le français dans une seconde zone.  Donc la langue de leurs cœurs était le français, mais la langue de leurs têtes, l’anglais.  D’autant plus qu’ils restaient, à part quelques rares exemples, illettrés en français.  Le français est devenu une langue du samedi soir, parlé dans des contextes bien familiers, entre eux, mais tous parlaient l’anglais.  La langue des affaires est devenu l’anglais. Chose curieuse, les métiers traditionnels, l’agriculture, la pêche, et l’élevage sont devenus les bastions du français.  D’une façon générale plus on est en territoire rurale, plus on risque d’entendre parler français.  De nos jours, il y a une alliance qui s’est formé entre les campagnes et les villes car c’est dans les villes qu’on trouve les programmes d’immersion.  La loi de 1968 qui a crée le Codofil (Conseil pour le développement du français en Louisiane) a aussi imposé l’enseignement du français (comme langue seconde) dans les écoles publiques.  La Paroisse de Vermillion est exempté parce qu’elle est la Paroisse la plus francophone est donc on estime inutile d’y enseigner le français car beaucoup le parle.  Vermillion est une Paroisse essentiellement rurale.  Mais l’idée qu’on ne doit pas enseigner le français parce qu’on le parle est un exemple de la situation parfois absurde dans laquelle on se trouve.   

4) Les populations francophones de Louisiane ont-elles bénéficié des « affirmatives actions » ? Dans quels domaines ?

Il n’y a jamais eu aucun programme tel les « affirmative action ».  En fait on continue asystématiquement à pénaliser le français.  La loi qui a crée le Codofil prévoyait la création d’un poste de télévision francophone.  Le projet, bien que mandaté par loi, ne s’est jamais concrétisé.  Les studios prévus sont aujourd’hui la radio KRVS sur le campus de l’Université de Louisiane à Lafayette.  Par l’indifférence générale, cette occasion si prometteuse a été perdue.  (À la même époque l’émission de télévision la plus populaire était une version française (doublée en France) de « Gunsmoke », émission de fiction western.) On ne peut pas concevoir la possibilité d’accorder une préférence au fait français.  Pendant toute l’histoire de la présence américaine en Louisiane, le français a été dénigré.  D’imaginer que les francophones méritent une reconnaissance particulière est tout simplement inconcevable.  La langue française est conçu comme étant une question culturelle et aucunement politique.  Ce qui distingue la Louisiane du Québec.

 

5) La francophonie en Louisiane influence-t-elle les secteurs économiques de cet État, lesquels en particulier ? Et est-ce un avantage d’être francophone dans la recherche et l’obtention d’un emploi ?

Le contraire est vrai.  L’assimilation anglophone a été très efficace et depuis le milieu du 20e siècle, la langue française ne représente aucune valeur commerciale.  Sauf dans les campagnes reculées où l’on trouve encore des francophones dans les secteurs des métiers traditionnels, les quincailleries, les cours de bois.  Le poste de télévision KLFY diffusait en français tôt le matin.  L’émission Passe Partout diffusait de l’information et la météo en français pour un public de fermiers et d’éleveurs.  Récemment on a cessé cette diffusion en français.  Avec la disparition des vieux francophones, l’attraction de l’émission diminue.  Mais maintenant qu’on voit les effets remarquables de l’enseignement en immersion, et que nous établissons de relations solides avec la communauté francophone internationale, tout est en train de changer. 

6) Lors de différentes diplomatiques entre les ÉUA et des États francophones et plus particulièrement la France ou le Québec, peut-on constater dans la population francophone de Louisiane un sentiment de double allégeance ? De la véhémence de la part des populations non francophones à l’égard des populations francophones ?

Il n’y a aucun sentiment d’allégeance nationale autre qu’aux USA.  Il y a une très grande sensibilité de la part des Louisianais pour les Français ainsi que les Canadiens, mais on est très loin de compromettre le sentiment d’appartenance américain qui caractérise les Cadiens d’aujourd’hui.  Ce qui n’empêche pas les francophones d’êtres les victimes de la francophobie.  Au début de la guerre en Iraq, plusieurs enseignants en français ont été insultés dans les cours d’école.  Les panneaux de rue à Lafayette affichent souvent le mot « rue », tel Rue Lafayette Street.  On a effacé le mot « rue » à coup de bombe de peinture jaune, la couleur du poltron.  Dans mon village les pancartes proclamant le jumelage avec plusieurs villages français ont été abattues, tout cela parce que la France de Jacques Chirac ne soutenait pas la politique d’invasion d’Iraq du président américain George Bush.  

7) Quels résultats tirés vous de la participation de la Louisiane aux instances de la

francophonie (OIF, APF…) ?

La présence de la Louisiane aux instances de la francophonie est très importante pour promouvoir l’estime de la langue française chez nous.  C’est la confirmation au plus haut niveau de l’importance des liens francophones sur le plan international.

8) Est-il envisageable et/ou souhaitable que l’État de Louisiane participe à l’OIF en tant que membre et non plus sous réserve d’une simple invitation ?

La Louisiane n’est pas un pays, mais simplement un état des Etats-Unis.  Donc elle ne pourra pas faire partie pleinement de l’OIF.  Ceci dit, il y a une très grande sensibilité envers la Louisiane et je crois, un réel désir de lui faire une place à la grande table de la francophonie.

Un statut permanent d’observateur sera une façon de reconnaître la communauté francophone en Louisiane et de l’encourager.

9) Quelles seraient les motivations de l’État louisianais qui le mènerait à entreprendre une telle démarche ?

Les avantages pour la Louisiane sont compris et appréciés.  Depuis longtemps, la Louisiane par le biais du Codofil tente d’établir une relation permanente avec l’OIF.  Le problème n’est pas de notre côté, mais le dilemme diplomatique de reconnaître un état américain.

10) Qu’apporte le fait francophone à l’État de Louisiane dans son développement ?

Le fait francophone est apprécié en Louisiane comme un moteur économique.  Ceci est basé essentiellement sur le tourisme, mais maintenant il y a une appréciation de la valeur du français qui dépasse le tourisme culturel.  J’ai récemment entendu Michaëlle Jean suggérer des outils économiques dont on doit doter la francophonie.  Pour que la francophonie puisse s’épanouir en Louisiane, il faut qu’il y ait une évolution dans la façon dont on la perçoit.  Le français ne doit plus être confiné au ghetto des vestiges culturels, mais doit faire partie de la communauté à part entière.  Il ne faut pas concevoir le français comme une attraction touristique, mais comme un avantage économique, pas comme une question culturelle, mais comme une question politique.  Il y a une nouvelle génération de francophones, comme le membre de l’assemblée Stephen Ortego, qui comprend bien le problème et qui lutte pour trouver de véritables solutions.  Comme disait Mme. Jean par rapport à la grande francophonie, il faut donner la francophonie louisianaise le moyen d’assumer un avenir économique. 

11) Le peuple Cadien/Acadien/Cadjin de Louisiane n’a-t-il pas tendance à éclipser la diversité de la francophonie en Louisiane ?

Il existe un lourd héritage de racisme en Louisiane qui a empêché les Cadiens et les Créoles noirs de collaborer pour la promotion de la langue qu’ils partagent.  Les Créoles noirs se sont montré indifférents à la question linguistique, parce que, je crois, ils se sentent exclus.  Ce qui est très regrettable.  J’espère que nous allons pouvoir construire des ponts permanents entre toutes les communautés francophones dans l’intérêt de valoriser la culture linguistique que nous partageons.  Je travaille actuellement sur un album de chansons composées et interprétées par les élèves en immersion.  Je suis très fier que le projet soit très rassembleur.  Il y a autant de jeunes filles que de garçons, autant de noirs que de blancs.  Ceci représente le nouveau visage de la francophonie louisianaise : multi-ethnique et multiculturelle.  Le texte d’une des chansons (écrites par des enfants de 10 ans) résume bien la nature rassembleuse de la francophonie :

 

Les Cadiens et les Créoles sont rassemblés

Ils sont les fils d’une tapisserie bien tissée.

Les Cadiens et les Créoles savent célébrer

À travers nos différences nous sommes entiers.

 

Ou encore :

 

Que tu viennes de la Cote d’Ivoire, de la France, de la Louisiane, du Québec, du Mali, de la Tunisie,  de la Belgique, ou d’Haiti

La vie n’est pas toujours facile

Mais si on se réunit, on peut changer le monde!

12) Nous voyons que le Codofil et autres associations pro-francophones font en effet beaucoup pour le développement de la francophonie en Louisiane notamment pour la minorité acadienne de Louisiane toutefois quels sont ses actions pour le maintien de la diversité de la francophonie louisianaise ?

Il est évident que les Cadiens dominent la francophonie en Louisiane.  Je suis moi-même d’héritage Cadien.  Par leur nombre tout simplement, les Cadiens sont influents. Mais on ne doit absolument pas voir par cela une volonté de promouvoir les intérêts ethniques au dépit des intérêts généraux francophones.  Nous ne concevons pas la francophonie en termes ethniques.  La francophonie est par sa nature ouverte et rassembleuse.  Les enseignants qui sont le « mulet qui tire le wagon » de la francophonie viennent de partout.  Ce qui est vraiment intéressant en Louisiane est que la francophonie est diversifiée. 

13) Quels sont les moyens à disposition du Codofil afin qu’il puisse mener à bien sa mission de promotion et défense de la francophonie en Louisiane ?

À sa création en 1968 le Codofil disposait d’un budget d’un million de dollars.  L’année passé, 45 ans plus tard, le budget est de $150,000, donc environ 85% de moins que ça l’était à sa création.  Il y a plusieurs raisons pour ceci, mais on peu associer la réduction du budget au déclin du français en Louisiane.  Il existait une élite francophone avec des leaders tel le sénateur Dudley LeBlanc et le premier président du Codofil, Jimmy Domengeaux.  Ces hommes et d’autres jouissaient d’un pouvoir politique qui leur permettaient d’obtenir un financement considérable auprès de l’état (le Codofil est une agence du gouvernement de la Louisiane). À l’époque environ 50% de la population du Sud-ouest de la Louisiane était francophone.  Ce qui rendait le projet très favorable parmi la population.  Jusqu’à l’arrivée au pouvoir du gouverneur Bobby Jindal, le budget était de $250,000, une réduction mais encore un montant important.  Sous le règne de Jindal, la culture et l’éducation ont souffert considérablement.  Avec sa vision politique d’extrême droite, et dans un effort de privatisation, Jindal a éviscéré les programmes culturels ainsi que le système d’éducation depuis la maternelle jusqu’à l’université. Mais il y a beaucoup de raison d’espérer.  Le budget du Codofil a été augmenté à 500 mille dollars cette année.  Ce qui indique un changement important de la perception de la valeur du français en Louisiane.  Je crois que nous avons touché le creux de la vague et qu’on est sur la montée.  Il existe une confluence d’éléments sociaux et politique qui est très prometteuse. 

14) Quelles sont aujourd’hui les réclamations des peuples francophones quant à leur reconnaissance et leur existence au sein de l’État de Louisiane ?

Un des grands problèmes en Louisiane est que le fait francophone est perçu comme étant une question culturelle plutôt que politique.  De plus, les Cadiens ont une tradition de bon ententisme dû, je crois, à leur expérience de déporté et au dénigrement dont ils ont souffert pendant fort longtemps.  Nous ne sommes pas un peuple revendicateur.  On ne peut pas parler de réclamations.  Le français dépend du bon vouloir de notre communauté entière y compris les anglophones.  Il ne s’agit pas de réclamer, mais de plutôt de convaincre.  Francophones et non-francophones doivent comprendre de la valeur du français et les avantages qui peuvent y découler, les avantages pédagogiques, économiques ainsi que culturels. 

15) Quels sont les liens qu’entretiennent l’État de Louisiane et les autres États francophones des USA et plus largement avec la Francophonie sur continent américain ?

La seule autre communauté francophone de souche importante aux Etats-Unis est la communauté Franco-Americaine de la Nouvelle Angleterre (surtout le Maine. Il y a aussi une communauté à Sainte Genéviève au Missouri, mais sa population est moins nombreuse).  Malheureusement nous vivons chacun dans nos solitudes.  Le Congrès Mondial Acadien 2014 sera une occasion d’établir des liens entre nos communautés.  Le CMA 2014 est le premier Congrès international.  Il se tient au Nouveau-Brunswick, au Québec, et dans le Maine.  Avec les possibilités de communications par l’internet, nous pouvons imaginer des échanges plus fréquents et plus solides que dans le passé.  Les relations de la Louisiane avec la francophonie canadienne sont bien établies et de longue date.  Québec et l’Acadie (Nouveau-Brunswick, Nouvelle-Écosse) réfèrent un très grand nombre de nos enseignants en immersion français.  Le Centre de le Francophonie de Québec, dont j’ai l’honneur de siéger au conseil d’administration est un organisme dynamique qui ne cesse de créer des programmes et des échanges pour tisser de plus en plus de liens entre toutes les communautés francophones en Amérique.  Le Centre a toujours été et demeure sensible aux défis de la francophonie en milieu minoritaire.

16) Sans forcément répéter le cas du « Québec Libre »La Francophonie en Louisiane attend-elle de la France un investissement et un soutien plus conséquent qu’elle ne le fait aujourd’hui ?

La France a été, depuis le début du Codofil, avec le Québec et la Belgique, un soutien fondamental pour le développement du fait français.  Elle reste un partenaire fidèle et un ami, mais la France, par l’intermédiaire de son consul à la Nouvelle-Orléans a informé la Louisiane qu’elle doit réduire les nombre de ses effectifs.  Le système de collaboration existe sur une base bilatérale.  Les enseignants sont recrutés en France par le Codofil.  Ils font de la coopération, de l’enseignement en place et lieu du service militaire.  Le département d’éducation de la Louisiane par son département d’enseignement de langue étrangère réfère les enseignants dans les écoles sous la surveillance du Codofil.  Le système fonctionne depuis 1968, mais il y a eu récemment des changements qui risquent de compromettre cette longue collaboration.  D’abord le département d’éducation de la Louisiane sous l’administration Jindal veut s’éclipser du processus donnant toute la responsabilité de la gérance du programme au Codofil sans lui donner les moyens de le faire.  De toute façon,  il est temps que la Louisiane puisse former ses propres enseignants en immersion.  Les qualifications pour les enseignants en immersion français sont bien complexes, car il faut enseigner non simplement le français, mais toutes les autres matières en langue française.  En Louisiane pour le moment, nous n’avons pas la formation nécessaire.  On peut former des enseignants en français, mais pas dans tous les matières en langue française (mathématiques, sciences, etc.) L’escadrille Louisiane a été crée dans le but de développer un groupe d’enseignants louisianais capable d’assurer la tâche.  Ils sont recrutés en Louisiane, mais doivent poursuivre leurs études……en France.  Pour le moment le système est toujours aux premières étapes, mais c’est évident que nous devons assurer l’enseignement par notre propre personnel.  La France, la Belgique, l’Acadie, le Québec ont été et sont encore très généreux avec nous, mais pour que la francophonie s’épanouisse en Louisiane, il faut qu’on assume la direction de l’enseignement par des Louisianais.

17) Comment interpréter cette différence de traitement entre la francophonie au Canada dont la France n’hésite pas à appuyer le dynamisme parfois en assumant le combat contre Ottawa, et le traitement timide qu’elle entretient avec la Louisiane ? Les États-Unis d’Amérique seraient un allié trop précieux pour le vexer ?

On ne peut pas comparer la situation du Québec avec celle de la Louisiane.  Au Québec, quand on parle d’assimilation on parle de « Louisianisation ».   C’est un exemple qui est de plus en plus ironique car Montréal est en train de devenir une ville anglophone.  Mais la situation du Québec ne se compare pas avec celle de la Louisiane.  Tout d’abord la résistance linguistique au Québec fut dirigée par une élite extrêmement bien éduquée.  Le sentiment d’exclusion qui était, selon moi, le fuel de la « révolution tranquille » n’aurait pas donner autant de résultat sans les chefs qui arrivaient à exprimer avec éloquence les sentiments du peuple.  Des hommes comme Pierre Bourgault et René Lévesque ont pu articulé la volonté populaire.  Il peut vous sembler étrange ce que je vais dire, mais ces intellectuels étaient les fils spirituels du clergé catholique.  Pas dans leurs opinions socio-politiques, mais dans le simple fait qu’ils étaient bien éduqués et complètement en mesure d’exprimer les sentiments du peuple en termes précis qui autrement auraient manqués de rigueur.  Il n’y a jamais eu l’équivalent en Louisiane.  L’élite éduquée en Louisiane américaine, si on fait abstraction de l’élite créole de la Nouvelle-Orléans, était assimilée.  En Louisiane, à partir de l’arrivée des Américains et de leur dominance socio-culturelle, l’élite créole franco-espagnol s’est anglicisée.  Le meilleur exemple est le gouverneur d’héritage acadien Alexandre Mouton.  Mouton était le fils d’un déporté.  Son père, Jean, fut né en 1754, l’année avant la déportation.  Jean arrive en Louisiane avec ses parents dans l’expédition de Beausoleil Broussard en février 1765.  Comme mes propres ancêtres (Richard et Boudreaux) Salvator Mouton avec sa femme Anne Bastarache et leur fils Jean ont été emprisonnés à Restigouche après la bataille de 1760 et  finit par rejoindre les Acadiens sous le chef de Beausoleil à Halifax d’où ils sont parti en novembre 1764.  Jean Mouton est devenu, malgré sa jeunesse mouvementée, un homme riche.  Il avait les moyens d’envoyer son fils à l’université.  Au contraire de l’élite créole de la Nouvelle-Orléans, qui envoyait ses fils à Paris pour les faire instruire, les Acadiens qui en avaient les moyens inscrivait leurs fils aux universités américaines.  Alexandre Mouton est donc diplômé de Georgetown University.  Devenu le 9e gouverneur de la Louisiane, Alexandre incarne l’ironie de l’élite acadienne au 19e siècle.  Propriétaire de plus de 150 esclaves, Alexandre Mouton préside la convention de sécession de 1860 qui fait de la Louisiane un état indépendant et qui plonge la Louisiane dans plusieurs années de guerre et plusieurs décennies de misère.  Alexandre Mouton, francophone de naissance et fils d’Acadien déporté s’identifiait avec l’élite planteur et non pas avec les petits habitants cadiens et francophones. Ce qui est important à souligner dans toute cette histoire c’est que l’élite acadienne ainsi que l’élite créole (français) ont été les premiers à apprendre et à pratiquer l’anglais.  La guerre de sécession a effectivement ruiné l’élite créole français, mais les intérêts de classe ont survécu.  L’ancienne élite francophone s’est entremarié avec la nouvelle élite post-bellum et a adopté sa langue : l’anglais.  L’effet de ceci est qu’en Louisiane la communauté francophone fut privé de son leadership naturel parce que les francophones les plus riches, les plus éduqués et les plus influents ont été les premiers a apprendre et à parler l’anglais.  Le Français a survécu en Louisiane grâce à l’isolement géographique, sociale et économique des francophones et non parce que ses chef se soient opposé à l’assimilation.  Les chefs ont été les premiers assimilés.

 

Pour ce qui est de l’encouragement français (de France) pour le Québec et son absence de même pour la Louisiane francophone, il n’était tout simplement pas possible de trouver d’interlocuteur en Louisiane.  Tous les hommes et femmes influents d’héritage acadien ou créole s’identifiaient à leurs confrères de classes : l’élite anglo-américaine.  Les Québécois ont pu conservé leur identité unique, tandis qu’en Louisiane, les Cadiens et les Créoles sont devenus Américains. Il ne faut pas voir dans l’appui de la France pour le Québec un désintérêt pour la Louisiane, mais plutôt l’absence des hommes et des femmes en Louisiane sur lesquels la France pouvait s’appuyer.  Cela a changé avec la création du Codofil.  Mais il y a eu plusieurs hauts et bas dans la relation entre la Louisiane et la France.  Au deuxième festival Acadien à Lafayette en 1974,  le président Pompidou avait envoyé un représentant pour assister à cette manifestation, fleur de la culture cadienne.  Ce monsieur fut assis à côté de Jimmy Domengeaux, président du Codofil lors du spectacle.  Imaginez la colère de Domengeaux quand il a vu un jeune chanteur oser brandir des drapeaux de « solidarité - fierté » et de chanter l’hymne militant « Réveille » (on n’est pas si loin de 1968).  En le voyant, Domengeaux jure que le chanteur ne mettrait plus les pieds au festival, promesse que Domengeaux a pu tenir jusqu’à ce qu’il (le chanteur) enregistre un album qui grimpe aux palmarès au Québec pour demeurer numéro un pendant des mois de temps.  Le chanteur en question est votre correspondant,  Zachary Richard




June 22, 2014

I was shocked, as were many, by the recent provincial elections in Québec.  I had anticipated that the Parti Québécois would consolidate its hold on power.  That, evidently, was the plan of former Prime Minister Pauline Marois.  I have criticized her energy policy in these pages, particularly her plan to open Île Anticosti to drilling, which I saw primarily as a political calculation.  Mme. Marois was willing to sacrifice the environmental quality of the Saint Laurence valley in order to pretend that she was doing something for the economy.  If this indeed was the case, it did not pay off. 

I followed the election with great attention.  For over thirty years now I have been not only watching, but closely related to the movement for independence in Québec.  I was in Prince Arthur Street, downtown Montreal that fateful night in November 1976 when René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois came to power.  I have always supported the dream of a French language state in North America and probably would have become a permanent resident of Québec had I not been obliged to swear allegiance to the Queen. (In order to become a resident of Québec, one must become a citizen of Canada and swear an oath of allegiance to the British crown.  Something that would have made my Acadian ancestors roll in their graves.  They had refused to do so, a choice which forced them to leave Nova Scotia and head to Louisiana.)

After the referendums of 1980 and 1995, I saw the dream tarnished, but I never imagined the hard fall of the Parti Québécois of this past spring.

Since the elections, there have been many analyses.  According to Jean-François Lisée, ex-minister of the Marois government, the culprit is none other than the very successful entrepreneur, Pierre Karl Péladeau.  According to Mr. Lisée, once PKP entered the race as a candidate of the Parti Québécois, it was no longer possible to dismiss the possibility of political separation from Canada.  Otherwise why would such a successful businessman as PKP run under the banner of the P.Q.?  Faced with the reality of sovereignty, as symbolized by PKP, the Québécois pulled away from the brink.  Mr. Lisée offers proof of his argument in the poll numbers that indicate that the Parti Québécois fell from grace the minute PKP entered the campaign.

This is plausible, but I think that the fall of the Parti Québécois indicates a profound change in Québécois society, or rather the manifestation of a change that has been developing for a long time.   When devoted separatists like Louise Beaudoin throw in the towel, the game appears to be over.  From my point of view, the fall of the Parti Québécois is due to two primary factors:  1.  Lack of leadership and 2. Lack of clarity.  The dream of a politically independent Québec simply does not appeal to a new generation of voters.

First the question of leadership.  For a long time, the P.Q. has been without an inspiring leader.  Pierre-Marc Johnson, Jacques Parizeau, Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry were all formidable politicians.  But with André Boisclair and Pauline Marois, the leader of the party has not been able to inspire.  In any event none of the above can measure up to the now mythical René Lévesque.  Is it the times which forge the leaders, or the leaders that influence the times?  It is certain that the situation of the French speaking Québécois is not the same in 2014 as it was in 1976.  With the “quiet revolution” (la révolution tranquille), the Québécois assumed a role of political, economic and social leadership that was unimaginable before the 1960s. 

1976 was not very far from the time when French Canadians were scorned (“pea soup”) and that the economic power in Québec was in the hands of an Anglo minority.   With the creation of Hydro Québec, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the international success of Bombardier, le Cirque du Soleil and Céline Dion, gone are the days when the Québécois felt inferior to the Anglo-Canadian.  Fifty years after the “quiet revolution” French speaking Québécois are confident of their ability to succeed nationally and internationally.  The sentiment of exclusion which was a significant factor in the early success of the Parti Québécois, is unknown to the new generation.   Consequently the drive for individual achievement is more prized  than the notion of political independence for the collective.  

Since the referendum of 1995, the Parti Québécois has been playing hide and seek with itself.  The party was founded and exists ostensibly to establish political independence from Canada, but watch out, don’t say it too loud.  Since 1995, the Parti Québécois is adrift from its fundamental purpose and therefore has come to symbolize nothing.  It has been seeking to creat for itself a political identity that recognizes yet does not completely embrace the aspiration of sovereignty.   And it has been having more and more trouble finding a message that resonates with the population. 

The « accommodements raisonnables » (reasonable accomodations) is the latest example.  A commission was created (Commission Bouchard-Taylor) to tour the province and investigate the situation of the immigrant community.  With a declining birth rate, Québec is obliged to seek immigrants to build its society.  How to integrate them into the French-speaking community poses a thorny problem.  Finally, in order to insure that Québécois society maintains its lay character, it was decided to ban from the government all outward signs of religious belief.  Of particular concern was the hijab.  Ultimately the entire exercise proved irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter to someone who is in the emergency room at a hospital whether the doctor is wearing a Halloween mask just as long as he or she can help.  The Parti Québécois launched itself into an exercise of social hand wringing that ultimately proved futile and alienated it from a new generation of voters.  It was inevitable that the Parti Québécois lose the support of the population because, ultimately, the party no longer has anything to say. 

I was dining recently in Paris with an old friend, who, like me, has been a lover of Québec for a long time.  “If the Québécois were really intent on being independent, they would be ready to die for it, “ she said.  My friend is Lebanese and has the middle-eastern passion for drama, but I have to agree with her point of view.  Life in Québec is very comfortable.  Except for the winters, everything is pretty easy.  As long as the Canadiens win a few hockey games and the government doesn’t mess with the students, nobody is ready to riot in the street.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the dream of a French language state in North America is dead and buried.  I’m not saying it, but averred separatists like Louise Beaudoin and Gérard Bouchard are.  If only the Expos would come back to Montreal.  At least that’s one dream that might come true.  




June 4, 2014

I usually have enough juice to write my own blog, at least once a month, this time however, in the wake of the passing of SB 469, I am reprinting this from the Tulane Institute of Water Resources Law and Policy.  This is an enlightened group of environmental law professors whose understanding of the condition of the environmental problems and issues facing South Louisiana is a beacon of light in the otherwise misinformed and misguided darkness into which we (the residents of South Louisiana) are plunged.  Subscribe to TUWaterWays.  This is from the latest issue.  

Bill to Kill Levee Board Lawsuit Passes Legislature, but What Else Does It Kill? 

Senate Bill 469 passed the Louisiana legislature last week and is sitting on Governor Jindal’s desk awaiting his signature or veto. The bill’s intent is to protect the oil and gas industry and kill the lawsuit brought by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East (SELFPA-E). It is a killing that Gov. Jindal himself called for. But the bill, if it becomes law, could do a lot more than that, a concern that has prompted the Governor to delay signing the bill

The gist of the concern is that the bill could limit state and local claims under the Oil Pollution Act and other laws, even possibly extending to the ongoing proceedings against BP stemming from the Deep Water Horizon disaster. This question was raised in a memo signed by a number of legal scholars (including this Institute’s director, in the interest of full disclosure) and a retired judge. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell asked the governor for time to review the bill for these consequences. So for now, Gov. Jindal waits, but if he waits twenty days, the bill becomes law without his signature. 

RAND Corp. Reports on Value of Louisiana’s (& RAND’s) Coastal Planning Work 

It might be easy to forget now, as it has become a part of our daily lives, but Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s (CPRA) 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan was a major accomplishment in addressing problems plaguing our coast. Many of those problems affect other coastal regions, and few of those regions have as robust a plan as Louisiana’s. RAND, which supported CPRA’s efforts in Louisiana, thinks other regions should follow suit. RAND’s study recommends other regions copy Louisiana’s decision-making process that valued public participation, technical analysis, and a robust & adaptive long-term strategy. That process has not resolved all the questions or made everyone happy, but it has moved the level of discussion, and even disagreement, to a different plane. Perhaps that is what progress most often looks like. 

Seems like allowing the oil and gas industry to destroy the coast of Louisiana with no burden of responsability is not as easy as 59 members of the House of Representatives had hoped. I congratulate my local representatives Stephen Ortego, Jack Montoucet and Vincent Pierre and to the other 36 members on their vote (nay) and tip my hat to John Bel Edwards for his insightful and well balanced remarks during the debate.  Stay tuned.  




May 6, 2014

Here are the facts:

1.  Oil exploration began in the Louisiana marsh in the 1930s

2.  In 1933, guidelines were formed by the state of Louisiana to protect the fragile marsh based upon the tacit understanding that oil companies would leave the State lands in the condition in which they found them.

3.  Since the 1930s Louisiana has lost a land mass to coastal erosion equivalent to the state of Delaware.  The more than 10,000 miles (4x + across the USA) of oil exploration canals are one of the contributing if not the major factor of coastal erosion.  (a fact no-one contests).

4.  A lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (levee board) alleges that the drilling activities of 97 oil and gas companies damaged Louisiana's coast and vulnerable wetlands, and seeks remuneration for the unrepaired damage caused over the years. 

5. A bill sponsored in the current legislative session, S.B. 531 would have effectively undermined the lawsuit by preventing retroactively a constitutionally mandated levee board from suing an energy company for environmental damages (the legislation also initially banned parishes from filing similar suits).  This bill was to be heard by the Senate Judiciary committee on April 29, but was withdrawn because it would not have passed.

6. In a scheme that seems to me to be of very dubious nature, its main provisions were included in another bill sponsored by Senator Robert Adley (R-Benton).  The original bill (Adley) would give the governor control of the levee boards.   The amendment added by Senator Allain (R-Franklin), which is really the heart of S.B. 469, would prevent a levee board from suing an energy company for environmental damages.  This new revised S.B. 469 was not presented to the Judiciary committee, but to Natural Resources and passed on May1. 

Now let me tell you what I think.  First of all, the creation of this bill seems to me to be extremely suspicious.  Its fundamental proposal would not have passed Judiciary, so it was ponied into another bill and sent to Natural Resources. Funny business.

Even more disturbing to me is that Senate Bill 469 seems to be a shameful attempt on the part of the oil and gas industry to refuse its responsibility and to shift the burden of restoring the coast that it has participated in destroying to the taxpaying citizens of Louisiana. 

The bottom line is that this issue belongs in the courts.  The attempt by big oil and their allies to prevent constitutionally mandated levee boards from pursuing legal means of redress for damages caused to our common coast is unconscionable.  I am ashamed. I am well aware of the economic advantages that our state has enjoyed due to the oil industry.  Even though I am a tree-hugging Buddist with vegetarian tendencies, I am also a life long resident of Lafayette Parish and I love this place and its people.  I do not wish the Oil and Gas business harm.  I do, however, expect that it conduct itself like a good citizen and not a bandit.  Everyone admits that oil exploration canals are a significant if not the major cause of coastal erosion.  The responsibility of the oil companies is something that should be decided by the courts, not in some back room deal with the governor.  Defenders of the bill pretend that if the lawsuit goes forward, oil companies will leave Louisiana. We all know that won’t happen until there is not a drop of oil left. 

Hear me well:  I drive a car and have a tractor.  I am writing this on a computer.  I am a one-man global warming machine. Many of my friends work for oil companies.  My hands are not clean.  BUT, I cannot support the notion that oil companies, which have derived such huge profits from Louisiana for decades, refuse to accept their responsibility (although I am sure that many do).

S.B. 469 is a bad bill.  Regarding the levee boards, we need qualified scientists and non-partisan members whose sole priority should be the protection of the people of Louisiana, not political cronies at the beck and call of the governor, whoever the governor should be.  S.B. 469 needs to be killed and the question of responsibility for the damages to the coast subsequent to oil and gas exploration resolved in the courts.

This is important because it goes to the heart of the question of who we are.  The coastal marshes are a huge part of life here and we are losing them at an alarming rate.  It will take a huge cultural and financial effort to save this land for our children and to protect ourselves from the next hurricane.   Oil companies have to be a part of the solution to the problem they have helped create.  It is not the business of the legislature to allot responsibility. You cannot (should not) create legislation to retroactively preclude someone’s right to redress damages because you do not like the nature of the claim. That’s why we have courts.

For the sake of our grandchildren, please defeat S.B. 469.




April 5, 2014

In the 12 years that I have been publishing this blog, never once have I been compelled to plagiarize.   I have always found plenty of things to write about.  For the first time, however, I am re-printing a text, one written by renowned biologist Jean Lemire, who has just finished a voyage around the world aboard the Sedna IV.  It was in July of 2005 that I made my own voyage on the Sedna, accompanying Pierre Beland in the Saint Laurence (blog August 2005).  I have also written about the political situation in Québec on occasion(blog April 2007), but this time I defer to Jean Lemire.  The Parti Québecois has long been for me a source of inspiration, but no longer.  It has devolved into a party much like the others with no real vision for the real challenges facing human society on the planet.

I have been close to and an ardent observer of the evolution of Québécois society for 40 years.  I was in Prince Arthur Street, Montréal the night of November 15, 1976 when the P.Q. was elected to power.  I was dancing in the street with my friends, convinced that the future of an independent Québec was all but certain.  The referendum of 1980 was a bitter deception and I will always remember a defeated René Lévesque, looking small and worn, when he said:  Si je vous ai compris, vous dîtes, à la prochaine (If I understand you, you are saying: next time).  It was not long after that I left Québec for 15 years, returning finally in a blaze in 1996.

My own story is deeply intertwined with that of Québec.  I am not a Canadian citizen and therefore (irony) cannot vote in Québec.  I am, never the less, deeply grateful for all that Québec has given me, an especially the possibility of a French language career in North America, and I can say without hesitation that I love Québec and its people.  I am, however, frustrated by the inability of Québec to assume fully its dream of independence, and more importantly, to live up to its potential as a world leader in sustainable development.  None of the political parties is addressing the fundamental problem of environmental degradation and its catastrophic consequences for life in Québec and elsewhere.   

I will stop here and refer to Jean Lemire (my unauthorized translation):

The current elections in Québec should allow a discussion of “les vraies affaires”, the real deal.  A chance for our society to show itself determined to assume real change.  Whether we vote with our head or with our heart, it is urgent that we transform the political model that is causing the destruction of innumerable animal and vegetable species.  In the recent “débat des chefs” (debate of leaders), the natural environment was pushed into the ditch on the economic highway.

After having traveled across more than half of the planet for 1000 days, it is clear to me:  never in the history of the world has there been such destruction.  Species are disappearing at a rate never before seen, and if nothing is done to alter our exploitation of natural resources, scientists estimate that between one third and one half of all of the known species on Earth will be extinct in this century.  I do not know how to say it, how to show it, but the situation is urgent.  You can call me alarmist, but the situation is catastrophic. 

There are no more fish in the oceans.  Monocultural farming is strangling life on the planet.   The veins of the Earth are polluted, and its heart in agony.  Our exploitation of natural resources is killing the very life upon which we depend. 

The current economic model promised to create wealth on a local level, but everywhere that we went, the picture was the same: multinational companies are reaping huge profits while the local economies are getting nothing but crumbs.  This economic model simply does not work.  When, during the “débat des chefs” the leaders of the major political parties claimed that we must create wealth to take care of our people, my heart ached.  How I would love to take these leaders aboard the Sedna IV to show them the failure of the system worldwide.

The “débat des chefs” sadly confirmed the notion that the environment is a priority only when the economy is strong.  This is true in Québec as well as elsewhere.  Québec, like most rich societies, is living beyond its means.  The political parties propose short term solutions to generate more wealth, more revenue.  In the name of balancing the budget, we are told that we have to exploit more, that we need to capitalize on investment in order to satisfy our economic needs.  This is in full contradiction with the basics of sustainable development, which is the ONLY possible means of guaranteeing a future for humanity. 

Québec has everything necessary to become a leader in sustainable development.  We must believe in its potential and demand new ideas for the creation of a new economic model which respects life under all of its forms.  My arguments will be dismissed and I will be spurned as an environmentalist with unrealistic ideals.  None the less, Québec is worried.  In spite of this evident concern on the part of the population, none of the political parties addresses these problems.  In the current electoral debate, the leaders are playing the same old tune, accusing one another and making promises.  But who is speaking for the people?  




March 17, 2014

Cher amis,  please help save the Chimney Swift.

Among the most entertaining visitors to the evening sky in summer are chimney swifts.  With their acrobatic flight and cheerful chirping, they appear like happy flashes and are gone.  Usually in a small group, these birds deserve their name. 

A widespread breeding visitor to much of the eastern half of the United States and the southern reaches of eastern Canada, the Chimney Swift migrates to South America for the winter. It is a rare summer visitor to the western U.S, and has been recorded as a vagrant in Anguilla, Barbados, Greenland, Jamaica, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is found over open country, savanna, wooded slopes and humid forest.

The Chimney Swift's wintering grounds were only discovered in 1944, when bands from birds banded (ringed) in North America were recovered in Peru.

In 2010, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature changed the Chimney Swift's status from "Least Concern" to "Near Threatened". Although the global population is estimated at 15 million, it has declined precipitously across the majority of its range. The causes of population declines are largely unclear, but may be related to the alteration of the insect community due to pesticide use in the early half of the 20th Century. In Canada, they were listed as Threatened by COSEWIC for several years with a likely future listing as a Schedule 1 species of the Species at Risk Act. In the U.S., the Chimney Swift is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Populations may have increased historically with the introduction of chimneys to North America by European settlers, providing plentiful nesting opportunities. Once a familiar bird in urban areas, the Chimney Swift has shown widespread declines across its continental range. The Breeding Bird Survey indicates that the population has experienced a dramatic decrease in Canada relative to about 1970, with an estimated loss of 92% of its population. The species commonly nests in chimneys.  It was classified as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2007 due to the severity of its population decline and loss of potential roost and nest sites

The natural habitat of the Chimney Swift is large hollow trees. Unfortunately, in the last two hundred years, this type of habitat became very rare due to deforestation and logging. The birds adapted to this change by adopting chimneys as roosts and nesting sites. Now, however, they are again faced with loss of habitat.

The chimneys that they use for roosting and nesting are disappearing rapidly. Across North America, traditional chimneys are being abandoned for electric heating or modified with metal liners and caps making them unusable for Chimney Swifts.

At the McDowell School in Shawville, Québec, during the summer of 2013, unaware that Chimney Swifts had been using the school's chimney as a roost for generations, the West Quebec School Board hired contractors to shorten the chimney structure, insert a liner and cap the top of the chimney, thus condemning the structure as a nesting site for the approximately 200 birds who will be returning in April from their wintering grounds.

BUT YOU CAN HELP.  Some friends of mine are hoping to build a roosting tower on the site of the McDowell School.  Based on the very successful project in Fairview Indiana, there are plans to build a 32 foot tower on the site to shelter the birds when they return.  PLEASE VISIT THE WEB SITE AND MAKE A GENEROUS CONTRIBUTION.

 

This is something that can help difference.  Thanks for your support. 

 




March 6, 2014

This is a translation of my acceptance speech upon receiving the Prix Léopold Senghor, March 4, 2014 in the Senate of France:

I am very honored to receive this prestigious award and to add my name to those who have been so honored by the Cercle Richelieu-Senghor.   I am proud to be able, hopefully, to steal some of the thunder of Léopold Senghor and by your recognition, in my own way, promote his humanist vision.

It is a very happy coincidence that I am receiving this award on Mardi Gras day.  Today in my community, hundreds of horsemen are gathering to “run” Mardi Gras.   In a tradition dating from the Middle Ages, masked riders will go from farm to farm gathering “charity” for a communal meal.  This “Beggar’s Feast” of ours is the proof of the resistance of our traditions.  Still today, in the heart of assimilated America, the Mardi Gras riders will run the roads and speak to one another in French.  I come from Southwest Louisiana, today a state of the United States, but once a colony of France, founded on Mardi Gras day by Pierre Lemoyne, Sieur d’Iberville, three hundred and fifteen years ago.  In spite of the relentless pressure of assimilation, my neighbor and I continue to speak to one another in the language of our fathers and mothers.

Language is not simply a means of communication, but also a way to see the world.  It is for this reason that it is important that “La Francophonie” embraces the ideals of Léopold Senghor and become “That integral humanism that weaves itself around the world”.  This great poet imagined a universal Francophonie respectful of diversity and ethnic identity. 

In 1969, he sent his representatives to the first Francophone summit at Niamey with this message:  The creation of a community of French speaking peoples will be the first of its kind in modern history.  It will express the need, in our time, for man, threatened by the scientific progress of which he is the author, to construct a new humanism that will be, at the same time, of his dimension and of that of the cosmos.

But I have not come here to speak to you about Senghor of whom you certainly know more than I, but in the hopes of sharing with you a little of my own North American Francophonie.  Our story, that of the French speaking people of North America, is little known on this side of the Atlantic.  France has long ago forgotten its old colony.  I think this is because it is a story of the “ancient régime” (pre-Revolution) and because it is a story that ended in defeat on the Plains of Abraham in September 1759.  Today France knows the snows of Québec and the jazz of New Orleans, but very little about the French-speaking communities which live in America.  But we are there, following our own path, often without any means except a ferocious attachment to our heritage. 

But who are we?  First of all we are 33 million in North America, and most of us live in the United States.  We are Acadians, Québécois, Haitians, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, Fransaskois, Cajuns and more, without forgetting the thousands of French who are living in New York and Los Angeles.  We are the threads of a multi-colored tapestry but we know as little about each other as you know about us.   Lost in the wide-open spaces of America, our communities are isolated.  The only thing that we share is the French language and the constant threat of losing it.  We do not even have a name to call ourselves.  “French North Americans” sounds cold.  “Franco-Americans” is the name of the francophone community of New England.  So we remain without a name if not simply: Francophone, French-speakers.  But when we meet, something extraordinary happens.  La Francophonie is by its very nature an exploration of diversity.  When an Acadian meets a Franco-Albertan, when a FranNordois meets a Cajun, we discover that we share something very fundamental.  Our different cultures are each unique yet they all share a common history and a similar experience.  La Francophonie obliges us to open ourselves to other cultures, to other stories.  It is a celebration of diversity.  And what says diversity says tolerance. 

Today in Louisiana there are many reasons to hope for the flourishing of our native French language.  First of all because it is being taught.  In 1900, 85% of the population of Southwestern Louisiana was monolingual francophone.  But the majority of the Cajuns of the time were illiterate.  Facing the economic and social power of the Anglo-american elite, we did not have the means and most importantly the confidence to challenge the eradication of our native language.  In 1916, public education became compulsory in Louisiana.   The schools were Anglophone institutions and powerful forces of assimilation.  French was forbidden in schools and the restriction imposed by corporal punishment practiced on small children.  Our linguistic heritage was denigrated, not only by the Anglo-Americans, but also, and tragically by the Cajun people themselves.  Now at the beginning of the 21st century, it is uncertain how many native Louisiana French speakers remain.

But there is reason for hope.  French is being taught with great success thanks to language immersion.  There are no French schools in Louisiana, but immersion programs based on the Canadian model:  60% of the school day is conducted in French.  The instruction begins in kindergarten, and it works.  Within a few years, the young students are perfectly bilingual.  And, their scholastic achievement is enhanced.  French immersion students consistently out-perform their non-immersion colleagues in standard English language battery exams!  But this is not the most important aspect of French immersion.  Our young students could be learning Chinese or Spanish with the same results.  What is important is that French immersion education gives our young students an image of a diverse community made up of people from everywhere.  Our teachers are from Québec, Acadie, Belgium, France but also Africa.  The image of La Francophonie in Louisiana is multi-ethnic and multinational.  For our children, the lesson is clear:  to be francophone is to be part of a diverse community made up of all sort of people from all over, people of all colors and all nationalities.  And what says diversity says tolerance. 

Thanks to a new generation of activists, a new law in Louisiana obliges any school district to provide a program whenever the parents of 25 students request French immersion.  For the first time in our history, we have understood that the preservation and promotion of our language is a political and not simply a cultural question. 

Each time we are ready to close the coffin on the cadaver of Cajun culture, it sits up and asks for a beer!

Which bring me to my proposition.  I would be derelict if I did not speak to you of Samuel de Champlain and encourage you vigorously to change the name of your Cercle from Richelieu-Senghor to Senghor-Champlain.  I believe that the humanism of Léopold Senghor is much closer to the man who was Samuel de Champlain than to the “Cardinal-Admiral” Richelieu. 

We know Champlain as the “Founder of New France”.  He was a soldier, explorer, cartographer whose maps significantly increased the level of precision for the period.  He was a prolific author who left us numerous accounts of Native Americans.  He was a naturalist and administrator of talent under whose governance New France was able to survive decades of difficulty.  Champlain did more that anyone to establish three distinct French-speaking communities in North America: the Québécois, the Acadian and the Métis.  But it is not in his role as founder that I believe Champlain deserves your recognition, but because his humanist values are similar to those of Senghor. 

Many accounts relate the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans, but rare are those that speak of peaceful relations.  Something extraordinary happened in New France at the beginning of the 17th century, something radially different from what was happening in New Spain or New England.   Whether with the Innus at Tadoussac in 1603, the Penobscots at Kenduskeag in 1604 or the MicMacs in Acadie in 1605, the encounters between French explorers and Native Americans took place in friendship and harmony.  It was the same when the French encountered the Abenaquis in Maine, the Canadians in Gaspésie, the Algonquins of the Saint Laurence, the Hurons of the Great Lakes, The Andastes, the Winnebagos and other nations.  The French had not come to conquer the native people in search of gold as did the Spanish.  Nor did they force them from their lands as the English did in Virginia and New England.  From 1603 to 1635, in the region that was called Canada, small colonies of Frenchmen lived alongside imposing Native American nations in peace.  The only exception was the incessant wars with the Iroquois into which Champlain was dragged by his Innu allies, the bane of New France. 

Why was it that this man came to have a humanist vision of the colonization of the New World?  What was the course of his life that brought him to recognize Native peoples as partners and friends?  Champlain came of age in a France torn by incessant religious wars.  As a soldier tired of the atrocities of war, he dreamed of a world in which people of different creeds and different ethnic origins could live together in peace.  Champlain had been influenced by the humanists who gravitated to the court of King Henri IV and particularly the Cercle Américain in Paris.  He  shared the liberal philosophy of the Christian humanists who believed that all men were children of God.  The experience of colonization and “négritude” of Léopold Senghor was the forge in which his character was formed.  Like Senghor, Champlain had passed through a difficult apprenticeship of life: religious war and the upheaval that ravaged Western France for decades.  Like  Senghor, Champlain dreamed of a better world.  I sincerely believe that Champlain deserves a special recognition because of his relations with the Native Americans which were based on friendship and respect.  He was certainly not a saint, just a man with his qualities and his faults, but his story of openness and tolerance of the Native Americans is a symbol of what La Francophonie should be.

I come to you on this Mardi Gras day to beg not for potatoes and a chicken, but rather to ask your consideration.  Do not forget the French speaking communities of North America, isolated, like my own, on the far frontier of La Francophonie.  I come to you, my hand extended in friendship like Champlain before Membertou.  Do not forget the Francophone communities scattered like so many seeds to the wind.  Let us celebrate together our language and our history.  We have much to tell each other and much to learn from one another.  Merci.  




February 25, 2014

I am deeply disappointed by the energy policy of the government of Québec and its cavalier project of oil and gas exploration on Anticosti.  From every point of view, economic as well as environmental, the plan is a disaster.  It seems obvious that this is nothing more than a political strategy.  The plan itself is risky and there is not the slightest reason to believe that oil and gas exploration on the island will bring in the economic benefits hoped for.

 This project reminds me of the early days of the oil spill in 2010.  In an effort to promote himself as a pro-active hands-on leader, governor Bobby Jindal climbed aboard a bulldozer on a barrier island.  The impression that he hoped to make was that he was in charge and that we, the people of Louisiana, could rely on him to take care of us.  Never mind that the scientific community was unanimous in its condemnation of the construction of levees along the lower coast and barrier islands, it seemed a good political move at the time.  Four years later we don’t hear much about the project anymore and if anything, it has proven to be a monumental failure.  But it sure looked good at the time. This is the same sort of politics being played by Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois just without the bulldozer.  In order to give the impression that she is doing something about the flagging economy of Québec, she is ready to get in bed with some of the most dubious oil and gas explorers in the business.  The economic benefits, so said, will be considerable.  Never mind that the pristine natural environment of Île Anticosti  (3000 square miles, population 281) will be devastated and the entire Saint Laurence basin put at risk, the Parti Québécois will be able to shout about its economic leadership.  The only problem is that it is unlikely that the project will ever create the economic benefits the Parti Québécois claims.  Those who will benefit will be the oil companies and the politicians. 

Marc Durand is a geologist and ex-professor at the University of Québec in Montréal.  According to Mr. Durand, the government has greatly exaggerated the potential for drilling on Anticosti.  He says that only 1.5% (one and a half percent !!) of the 30 billion barrels supposedly on the island can actually be extracted.  He admits that the windfall might be on the order of $40 billion.  However, it will take $120 billion to extract the oil and bring it to market.   Mr. Durand calculates that there is a 1 in 1000 chance that the government will be able to recover the $150 million dollar investment (!!) that the Parti Québécois proposes.  Not the best odds. 

This is the first time in North America that a government has decided to invest in non-conventional oil and gas exploration, since fracking is part of the plan.  Not a real source of distinction for Québec from my point of view.  By proposing this plan, Pauline Marois has effectively said to oil and gas that Québec is open for business, “so come and get it boys”.   Last year there was a fracking moratorium placed on the Saint Laurence valley, so big oil is probably a little confused.  So am I.

This policy is in direct contradiction with the green activism that has genuinely become part of the social vision of most Québécois.  Madame Marois’ Anticosti policy turns years of pro-green development in Québec on its head.  On top of the environmental dangers posed to the island and to the entire Gulf of Saint Laurence, this policy does not take into consideration the impacts it would have on climate change.  Instead of developing local sources of renewable sources of energy (biomass for example) Madame Marois wants to hitch her caboose on the oil and gas train which, as even a 6 year old can tell you, is going down hill.  The most recent report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is unambiguous.  According to Camil Bouchard, ex minister and member of the Parti Québécois: “One is either on the side of the protectors of the Earth or on the side of its grave diggers”.   It seems that the government of Pauline Marois is ready to go against the social conscience of her constituents by supporting a very risky oil and gas exploration that will not only put the natural environment of the Saint Laurence at jeopardy, but also contribute to the problems of climate change which pose a significant threat to Québec.  She apparently thinks that nobody is paying attention and that the promise of petro dollars for Québec will get everybody all hopped up.  Shame.

I come from a place that has a very heavy legacy of oil and gas production.  Louisiana’s economy is based on oil and gas, but there have been some serious side effects, the loss of wetlands being the most alarming.  Each year, and since the 1980s, Louisiana’s coastline loses anywhere from 30 to 80 square miles of territory.  Our protection against hurricanes is diminished by every inch of wetlands that is lost.  In the time that it takes you to read this article, a swatch of land the size of a tennis court will have disappeared.  The reasons for land loss are complex, but all the reasons have to do with the effect of human engineering and one of the most, if not the most serious culprit, is the thousands of miles of oil exploration canals which have permitted salt water to intrude into the fresh water march, killing aquatic plants and marsh grass in the process and destroying the glue that holds the marsh together.   Another dubious heritage of oil and gas exploration are the thousands of “legacy” sites that have posed serious pollution threats for decades.  Not to mention recurring spills like the latest one of February 24, 2014 which blocked river traffic in the Mississippi and spilled who knows how much oil into the river.   The consequences of oil and gas exploration on Anticosti are unknown, but I will bet good money that should exploration go forward, there will be multiple and serious accidents and pollution of the island and perhaps the entire Gulf will be a result. 

I am very disappointed in the Parti Québécois whose principal mandate is the creation of an independent Québec.  I do not understand how selling a part of the natural heritage of Québec to multi-national oil companies can possibly further that goal.  Instead of giving example to the world of a society which can actively address the problems of climate change, the government of Pauline Marois is ready to join the club of carbon-monoxide pushers.  Not much to be proud of according to me. 

 It seems pretty obvious that this whole project is fundamentally an election strategy.  Pauline Marois should explain to the young children of Québec why she is prepared to sacrifice the natural environment of her country while adding to the serious threats posed by the consumption of fossil fuels for a risky prospect that may or most probably will not ever pan out.  If she wants to get into the oil business she should move to Louisiana.  We speak French too.