Tuesday, January 1, 2019

In L’acadie Ke’pek, Pom’kek, Tuské Wedge

I’m a Sang Mêlés, Métis Acadien, a registered Section 35 Aboriginal person. I belong to the Association des Acadien-Métis Souriquois of Nova Scotia. I have Souriquois ancestry. The Métis Acadien or Sang Mêlés are the oldest mixed blood people in Canada being established in the 18th Century. We have persisted as an aboriginal people because our territory is small, a thin band of communities along the western Nova Scotia shore, in reality the size of a large Native reserve.

My clan comes from the territory known to our Souriquois ancestors as Ke’pek. My mother called this place Cha’bake. The word is the same Algon’kin root as Québec, the narrowing of waters. This area is an open arm of the sea first explored by Samuel de Champlain, which narrows to the Tuské (Tusket) river with Pom’kek (Pubnico) on the eastern shore and Tuské Wedge (Wedgeport) on the western side. The area is the traditional territory of the Souriquois, now known as the Mi’kmaw Acadia First Nation.

Three peoples lived on this land, first, the Souriquois, then the confederated French/ Souriquois who became the first Sang Mêlés, then after the expulsion the returned Sang-Mêlés. Our families didn’t begin to marry outside of L’acadie Ke’pek until after the Second World War, so the ancestral bloodlines are still strong and clearly defined. We are the first Métis people. The Métis flag used in Canada depicts a white infinity symbol on a blue background. The image is symbolic of the idea Métis status can never be extinguished. The Sang-Mêlés of L’acadie is where infinity begins.

We diverge from the stereotypical Acadian/Land of Evangeline people’s narrative, because we never left. Unlike the pacifist Acadians who were deported to the British American colonies and beyond during the deportation (1755), my people and our Souriquois cousins escaped from Acadia to Canada, which at that time was just across the boarder at the Tantramar, (New Brunswick.) The Sang Mêlés were a warrior class, we waged armed struggle against Edward Cornwallis at Halifax; we were not passive sheep gathered together in a church and lead onboard ships to exile. The Sang-Mêlés fought when they could, then after the fall of Canada (Ville de Québec) in 1759, gradually returned to their territory around Ke’pek after enduring the prison camps at Halifax.

In 1847 American college professor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his epic fictional poem Evangeline. This literary construction written in English posited the Acadians as a pure blood, French speaking white race. It’s a paradigm that persists to this day. Longfellow’s poem gradually began to be taught in schools and embraced by the racist, colonial Government of Nova Scotia, who enforced this artificial cultural straight jacket on the returned Acadien. In two generations, with insidious help from the Roman Catholic Church the Sang Mêlés Acadien began to picture themselves as a lesser kind of racially pure Québecoise. This absurd racist construction precipitated the final split between the Sang Mêlés and their Mi’kmaw cousins, who were even more stigmatized and reduced to virtually non-human status compared to the Land of Evangeline Acadians. Growing up in Halifax in the 1960’s I was aware French speaking Acadians were a second-class people, socially above the indigenous blacks and Mi’Kmaw only by virtue of their white skin. From this perspective it’s easy to see why the Sang Mêlés assimilated.

Sang Mêlés consciousness is a relatively new thing. Until our enlightened period of Recognition, Restitution and Reconciliation Acadians were content to view themselves as a lesser kind of Québécois, tucked away in their little corners of the Maritimes, the living embodiment of Longfellow’s people of the Expulsion, this attitude was underlined by both the Roman Catholic Church and an evolving Acadian intellectual and cultural elite centered on College Sainte-Anne, a French language Catholic undergraduate school founded in 1890 at Church Point, Nova Scotia. Gradually histories of the Acadians were written, mostly by Acadian scholars in Québec, funded by separatist governments and predictably these historians erased the Sang Mêlés from their white supremacist histories.

Interestingly, the first authoritative history of the Acadien, from which most of my narrative originates, was published by James Hannay, a New Brunswick historian in 1879, less than a century after the Expulsion. In it Hannay frankly states the first Acadien were a mixed race people and details the split between the pacifist Acadians and the activist Sang Mêlés Acadien, Hannay’s history is now smiled on by Acadian scholars as the product of an aggressive, racist Anglophone. Ironically the main criticism of Hannay’s history is his supposed negative depiction of the Souriquois and his conventional (for the 19th century) use of the word savage. I can’t agree with this analysis particularly where Hannay quotes Samuel de Champlain’s history of his visits to Canada and Acadia in the early 17th century. Hannay obviously quotes Champlain extensively and uses the word savage as Champlain did (sauvage) to infer a person or people who live in the wilds. Hannay does later use savage in the conventional construction meaning (vicious), but only in the context of the French and Indian War (1754-63,) where my Souriquois ancestors were indeed vicious and savage and waged a war of extermination on neighbouring tribes aligned with the British. Otherwise Hannay, with a few exceptions is very respectful of the Souriquois and describes them as having a highly ordered society and presents our great ancestor King Membertou as a thoughtful statesman. 

The secret of our mixed blood was so profoundly hidden that I had no idea I and we had native heritage until I was in my thirties, then the dam broke with the publication of Roland Surrete’s Métis/Acadian Heritage 1604-2004 and the formation of the Association des Acadien-Métis Souriquois. More recently, Sébastien Malette, et all’s, An Ethnographic Report on the Acadian-Métis (Sang-Mêlés) People of Southwest Nova Scotia, has created a bedrock for the Sang Mêlés Acadien to reclaim an almost vanished nation.

I often wonder what my grandpére and grandmére would think of the deconstruction of their Land of Evangeline paradigm. I empathize with my Acadian ancestors, who transformed from Sang Mêlés into pure blood Acadians and lived comfortably on their small farms, fishing in the summer, raising their families and attending their churches. In a way they fulfilled the ambition of the first settlers, while ironically their pacifist pure blood Acadian cousins were scattered to the wind. The time has come for the Sang-Mêlés of Ke’pek and L’acadie to reject the racism that keeps us separated from our Native cousins and challenge the self serving lies that pass for history among the Acadians so a rising generation will know who they are and where they come from.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Rappie Pie (Rappure) in response to the absurd Wikipedia entry

Fair de rappure. Most people think rappie pie is a universal Acadian meal, but in fact the rappure is confined to a small part of Western Nova Scotia, most Acadians eat Québec type Christmas meals like tourtiere. The rappure was not the product of thrifty Evangeline's producing starch for their husbands garments in Grand Pré, but the creation of our mixed blood Acadien grand-méres when we were exiled in Canada (New Brunswick) and no flour was available to make a suitable Christmas Eve pie. The rappure is sacred to all who make it.

This picture depicts squeezing the grated potato

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Cut and the Arm, 1978 (2018) 83 x 122 cms mixed media construction on plywood

The Cut and the Arm, 1978 is based of an aerial view from the City of Halifax Archives and shows west end Halifax from the Armdale railway cut and the Northwest Arm to the roundhouse in Rockingham, circa 1978. Because of family breakdown I spent the first year of my life living next to the ocean in my Sang Mêlés homeland, Tuské Wedge in Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia. Returning to Halifax the family lived in a dilapidated Victorian, cold-water flat off Windsor Street. In 1966 we moved to the west end into a new world of new things - streets, houses, schools, parks, shopping malls, all new and clean with smooth unbroken pavement for as far as the eye could see. Nothing can touch the perfection of this place on a quiet Sunday in high summer when all was so still the chirping of grasshoppers drifted over the hot paved parking lots and I was drawn to the historic train line behind Simpson-Sears to wait for trains. In contrast to everything around me the rail line was old, covered in oil and the margins overgrown with grass. The engineers knew this was a playground for children like me, particularly Chebucto Road Bridge so they sounded their horns from a great distance in the railway cut to warn us. Hearing the high pitched glassy sounding chime tooting and bending in the fluctuating winds we stepped away from the tracks and waited in the long grass for the train to pass, usually a modest double hitch Dayliner on the way to Yarmouth, or a long passenger train bound for Montréal. Before I could understand what sacred meant I knew this place was somehow sacred and eternal and that I was just a passing shadow over the pristine grey pavement on a quiet summer day.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Six Diamonds on the Petitcodiac. 2018.

Fourth work in the 64 Points elaboration series. 60 x 60 cms, mixed media construction on plywood. A view of Moncton, New Brunswick on the sacred Petitcodiac River.