This year, 2017, will see the 5th annual French Canadian Heritage Week in Michigan. The annual observance has been scheduled for the last week of September, from the 24th-30th. Over the past four years, an array of events in communities across Michigan have shown how much can be done by few — local activists, historical societies, genealogy groups, restaurants, and other organizations have made Heritage Week a phenomenon to be proud of. It is, at heart, an opportunity for grassroots community-building, focusing on the tradition, heritage, and continuity of Michigan’s early founding cultures.
One of the core features of French Canadian Heritage Week has been the historical French Canadian connection to Indigenous communities and the Métis culture that has grown in tandem with French Canadian culture, often indistinguishably. This is a source of strength and pride among people who count themselves as ‘descendants of New France.’ Therefore it is right and proper to understand French Canadian Heritage Week as inclusive of all those descendants of the original settlers of French, French-Canadian, Québécois, and Métis stock.
As awareness of this essential nature of our common heritage has increased among the general public, it has led to a deeper sense of understanding of the complexity and legacy of French Canadian culture in Michigan. As 2017 Heritage Week approaches, I hope that organizations and individuals embrace this opportunity to focus their events, studies, or home-life on this unique and positive moment heretofore endorsed by a resolution of the Legislature of the State of Michigan.
Folklife in America is as multifaceted as the many ethnic, religious, and cultural groups that have been here forever or for generations. There are many examples just in Michigan that give French Canadians and Métis reasons to hope that modern life will not extinguish the bright fire of our age-old cultures: we see the popularity of rendezvous events, to the annual enactment of the Marche du Nain Rouge in Detroit, to the campaign to educate people about the Windsor-Detroit Jesuit Pears (French Pears if you’re from Monroe), and an appreciation among people in positions of influence across the state of the richness of our heritage.
In the coming months as I reach out to potential legislative sponsors, create flyers, craft a resolution, encourage organizations, respond to queries, speak to reporters, and ultimately create a list of events happening around the state, I will also be searching for a partner to hand this project off to in the coming year. As rewarding as this project is, I do not believe that it is or should be one person’s job, forever, to do. Of necessity, it requires a sense that it is worth enough for someone else to want to do. Although the work is not particularly difficult or onerous, it requires a small time commitment and the willingness to follow through.
At the end of the day, that is what grassroots organization is all about. If you want it done, you have to do it, or it won’t get done at all. I invite anyone who has the desire, from Michigan (and in Michigan if possible – if not, it becomes more complicated) to work with me on this year’s Heritage Week organization and promotion. I especially seek a younger person to engage in this project – someone under 50, preferably under 40. If there is a weakness in this project as a whole, it has been finding ways to bring younger people, Millennials and Post-Millennials, into programming in any way.
While I will continue to write and advocate for French Canadian and Métis cultures throughout the Great Lakes, five years is my self-defined term limit in producing Michigan’s French Canadian Heritage Week. I would love to continue in another year to advise and assist, but someone else is needed to take the lead. I have seen far too many people burn themselves out after working on projects like this for 20 years. There is something about the law of diminishing returns that seems appropriate to refer to in circumstances like this.
I have an email database to offer, a community journal at your disposal, resource guides to share, and energy to be involved under someone else’s companionable leadership. But the most vital thing I am lacking right now is someone who is willing to pick up the oar and row the canoe on down the river for a while.
Will it be you?