FORT KENT – Almost 250 years after the British forced thousands of Acadians from lands in Canada, a heritage panel in Maine has unanimously agreed to lend its support to Canadian Acadians seeking an apology from the British crown.
Leaders of the Acadian movement want an apology from Queen Elizabeth II for the deportation, which led to Acadian settlements up and down North America, including Louisiana and the Caribbean.
They would like an affirmative answer from England by 2005, the 250th anniversary of the deportation. The cause was recently taken up by La Societee National D’Acadie, or the National Society of Acadia.
“We will officially petition the queen for apologies for activities that occurred from 1755 to 1863,” Euclide Chiasson, president of the national association, said Monday. “We decided to do it directly through the governor-general of Canada, the queen’s representative in Canada.
“We want England to accept that this was an unacceptable act,” Chiasson said. “It was sort of an ethnic cleansing, and some people are still denying it.”
The New Brunswick Society of Acadians is also involved. “The order for the deportation of the Acadians has never been rescinded,” said Jean Guy Rioux, president of the society. “It remains a dark cloud in history. … We were British subjects when this happened. We need an apology for that.”
Now the Maine Acadian Heritage Council has offered its backing.
“We are unanimous in our support of them seeking an apology, and to have them stop the deportation order,” said Jason Parent, president of the heritage council. “It is a formality because the order is not being carried out any longer, but it has never been rescinded nor canceled.
“All the Acadians want is an official apology, a public acknowledgement,” he said. “We’ve never championed a political cause before, except in Maine, where we are seeking a separate tourism area, and this seemed like a good one.”
The Acadians were the French who settled land now called the Maritime Provinces, including present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and, in the present-day United States, parts of eastern Maine.
The British had won control of much of the area by the 1760s.
In the deportation of Acadians in 1755, thousands were taken from their lands, separated from their families and dispersed up and down the East Coast. Some also fled north, to what is now Fredericton, New Brunswick. A generation later, some of those Acadians moved into the St. John Valley.
But the lands left behind were confiscated and given by the British crown to loyal British subjects.
The actual number of Acadians who were deported is unknown, but it is believed to have numbered in the thousands. Hundreds died during the military action.
The apology movement started more than a decade ago in Louisiana, where resettled Acadians became known as Cajuns.
“We need for them to admit it happened, and that it is important that it not happen again,” Chiasson said. “A similar request was defeated in Canadian Parliament when the apology was sought by a Quebec member of Parliament last December.”
“This is much like what [then-] President Clinton did for African-Americans, slavery and civil rights violations,” former Maine state Sen. Judy Paradis said.
Paradis is writing the actual document of support. She did not have the document completed Monday, saying it may be finished later in the week.
The National Society of Acadia was formed in 1881 and is a federation that includes provincial chapters in Canada. It also has liaison associations like Action Acadienne in Louisiana, another in the French islands of St. Pierre Miquelon, France Amitie in Paris, and one from the Magdelene Islands of Quebec.
The original request for an apology from the British crown was made by Warren Perrin, a Louisiana lawyer, more than a decade ago. It has been bantered about by several Acadian associations since Perrin’s original attempt.
“There is nothing in these proceedings about monetary damages,” Chiasson said. “This is about honor, not about money.”
Chiasson said issues like this can take years. But he is optimistic that the apology could happen within the next three years.