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May 9, 2011


(Translated from an article written by Gilles Duval of the daily newspaper, "Acadie Nouvelle," which appeared on Monday May 9, 2011)

When she started a university degree as a non-traditional student, Lise Pelletier discovered a passion for the French language and Acadian literature. She has made Acadian Literature her field of expertise at the Master’s and doctoral levels. She lives in Fort Kent and is director of the Acadian Archives of the University of Maine at Fort Kent. In addition to being a strong advocate of the French language in the St. John Valley, where the population is approximately 17,000, she also is a member of the international organizing committee of the 2014 World Acadian Congress, which will take place in northwestern New Brunswick, Témiscouata County in Québec and in northern Maine.
Where does this passion for Acadian Literature come from?
I discovered during my undergraduate studies that I knew very little about the history of Acadians in spite of the fact that I grew up in New Brunswick. More often, the victors are present while the people in a minority context are neglected. I discovered the Acadian people through literature, art, music, politics, and the cultural revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
How is the St. John Valley unique in the United States?
It has the largest concentration of French-Canadian descendants and the largest percentage of French-speaking people in the U.S. This region, like other “little Canadas” throughout Maine, have faced the prejudices, the KKK, the “English-only” law of 1919, but has managed nonetheless, to maintain its maternal language among its older citizens. It is the lack of political will that has prevented French from being integrated in a consistent way in the schools’ curriculum.
Is it possible to spend a day speaking only French in Fort Kent or the St. John Valley?
Absolutely. In 1994, the Club Français of the St. John Valley was born out of a real threat that the French language was disappearing among our people. Businesses put up posters “ON PARLE FRANÇAIS ICI” to encourage people to speak French. I am proud to state that I can do my banking and shopping in Fort Kent and Madawaska, Ste Agatha, and Van Buren all in French.
Is French still prevalent and healthy in the St. John Valley?
We must be vigilant. The threat of its demise forces us to be aware of our heritage and to fight to keep it alive. On the Canadian side, there is no danger that the French language will disappear. But for us, it is a different matter, especially since it is not a school-mandated subject.
What is your role with the 2014 WAC?
I am part of the 15-member international organizing committee. From a professional standpoint, I bring a historical context. I educate and raise awareness on both sides of the St. John River, about our shared history, and about the history of the Acadians in Maine.
Do you believe that the 2014 WAC will be an opportunity to rekindle the flame?
Absolutely. The 2014 WAC will be a wonderful opportunity to unite Franco-Americans and Acadians in language and in blood to make them proud of their roots. I also hope it will bring about a renewed interest in reviving the French language.
Do you believe the 2014 WAC will be a form of renaissance for the French language in the St. John Valley and it will leave a legacy?
I do. We have four school districts in the St. John Valley and I hope they will see the importance of teaching French at the earliest levels. The excitement generated by the WAC and the great cultural reunion of French descendants from all over the glove I hope, will bring pride and self-esteem. Continuing to ensure a French presence is everyone’s task.
What is your dream for the St. John Valley?
I hope French will always be spoken in the Valley. It needs to be in the homes and especially in the schools. A French-immersion school for the region and a museum highlighting the contribution of Francos to the area, to the state, to the nation, their language and their traditions, are two important elements that should be added to our region. I would hope that one day all high school graduates would be bilingual.