The Marche du Nain Rouge: Fostering Cultural Continuity

 by James LaForest

NAIN SUNBURST SMALL

Nain Rouge © Courtney Brooks, 2013.

We don’t do fundraising for Voyageur Heritage and I am not planning to suggest we start. A few generous individuals have given donations to help provide stipends for some of our writers which helps maintain a steady flow of new material and I am thankful for that. French Canadian Heritage Week has been completely ‘grassroots’ and funded by individuals, local organizations, Quebec government cultural outreach programs, and the Centre de la francophonie des Ameriques, all dedicated to fostering the continuity of French cultures in Michigan and throughout the country. This approach requires activists to get involved to make things happen on a local level, which in my view is the best way to ensure that future generations appreciate the uniqueness of our regional heritage.

One excellent example of this is the Marche du Nain Rouge in Detroit. For several years now they have been growing this springtime fest into a major cultural event. While it is something for the entire community and driven by people of diverse backgrounds, it is deeply rooted in Detroit’s French history. From an outsider’s perspective (I am not a Detroiter, but 11 generations of my family live or have lived there, including my father with a wartime stint working for Detroit Diesel Engine as a teenager before joining the Army), I see the French, French Canadian, and French Métis heritage of Detroit as among the city’s great resources, which until the folks behind the Marche came along, had largely been untapped for many years.

To that end, I want to encourage people to support this event by attending and telling your friends about this great event in Detroit. But at some point, support means more than “moral support.” Anyone who has dedicated countless hours to community building, cultural activities, historic preservation, etc, will be able to tell you how important it is for people to step beyond the “likes” and the nice comments on social media to concrete actions. Showing up is first and foremost what drives success. But ultimately, building and inclusiveness means costs that can’t be sustained by the generosity of organizers. It takes a community.

At first glance it would seem that French Canadians and Métis in the Great Lakes do not have many opportunities to support our culture(s) financially. Yet there are artists working in themes relevant to our heritage; musicians and storytellers telling our stories on stage and in print; there are language and historic preservation projects; and places like the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, Fort de Buade in St. Ignace, and the French Heritage Museum in Kankakee, Illinois are a few of the places that work to ensure that our history is told. They all need financial support.

The Marche du Nain Rouge is telling our story in a different way, one that is remarkably successful and based on a story first told some three centuries ago about Detroit. Just as Detroit became the first major center for North American French life outside Quebec during the French colonial era, today it is once again showing the way forward to a French-accented Motown. The Marche is not a success because of money, but because of people. Yet in order to include more people in its festivities, it is asking for financial support from the community. Read all about the Marche and it’s latest project at Patronicity and consider giving a donation.

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