French-Canadian Heritage Week is September 29-October 5, 2014 as resolved and adopted by the Michigan State House of Representatives on August 27, 2014.
Why pride? Why French-Canadian Heritage Week? What’s all the fuss?
A cultural attribute that often comes up when I have conversations with other French-Canadians, Métis, and Franco-Americans about identity is the way we often tend to “not make a big deal” of things. As a culture we have tended, in the USA at least, to avoid confrontation with church, state, and industry. Wherever this comes from — inborn humility, self-deprecation, a history of living under harsh authorities — it means that as the generations pass, we lose touch with our culture and our history. It means we may even lose touch with our ancestry. Effectively, while all around us other ethnic and religious groups thrive with major celebrations and community centers brimming with pride, French-Canadians fade into the margins.
Concealment in one generation is unawareness in another with names Anglicized, food traditions generalized or credited to another culture, stories and music forgotten. In the words of a friend, we even tend to deflect the mere idea of the oppression endured by previous generations of North American French. This oppression has taken extreme forms including racism, language eradication, and eugenics. If we choose not to dwell on those historical realities, must we also forget them? Recognition engenders reconciliation, which allows us to return in pride to our own histories and cultures.
The main reason French-Canadian Heritage Day (2013) and Week (2014) came into being in Michigan was to raise cultural awareness. We do not need to change the character of French-Canadian culture to something that does not reflect our values or history. But it is vital to ‘own’ our culture in a way that defines it as connected genetically and culturally to the unique and amazing history of the North American “French.”
Fierté means Pride — fierté means that, in recognizing how sometimes our ancestors hid their identities or were forced to deny them in response to outside forces, we now choose to identify as French-Canadian and/or Métis despite generations of pressure to assimilate away. Fierté is seeing yourself as part of a great and honorable history.
Fierté is bridging the gap between generations. Fierté is making yourself the means of continuity by passing on the legacy of the fur trade, métissage, mill workers, and the lumber era; by celebrating our writers, painters, and folklorists as well as our leaders, the patriotes, and the condemned, who forged new nations and peoples in their struggles: Québec, Acadia, the Métis, Franco-Americans, Franco-Ontarians, Cajuns, Creoles…and French-Canadians.
A week to remember and honor our heritage is neither a beginning nor an end in itself. It is a means to a more confident expression of our culture. It is an opportunity for people in communities small and large to gather, have fun, and to remember. And it is a means to reflect on the values and history of our unique culture; an opportunity to reintegrate our history and our culture into the broader societies we live in. It is an opportunity to be French-Canadian in public, on our own terms, and with fierté.
Have a wonderful French-Canadian Heritage Week and thank you for taking part.