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Acadians celebrate Ottawa's approval of expulsion proclamation

CHRIS MORRIS

Canadian Press

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

FREDERICTON (CP) - Acadians in the Maritimes are celebrating a decision by the federal government to endorse a royal proclamation acknowledging the wrongs done to their ancestors during the expulsions of the 18th century.

Euclide Chiasson, head of the Societe Nationale des Acadiens, said Wednesday the proclamation was approved by the federal cabinet during what was expected to be its final meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien earlier this week.

"It was, to use the Latin phrase, 'in extremis,' because it was the last cabinet meeting," Chiasson said in an interview.

"Up to the last minute, we didn't know if it would make the agenda. We have to thank (MPs) Sheila Copps and Stephane Dion who took leadership on this and pushed it through. We are very happy."

The Acadian society wrote Queen Elizabeth several months ago asking the Crown to consider an acknowledgment of the expulsions, which began in 1755 and ended around 1763.

Earlier efforts to seek a royal apology were dropped.

Buckingham Palace responded by saying the Queen would need the advice of her Canadian ministers.

"The proposal was put to the cabinet and we understand it was accepted unanimously," Chiasson said.

He said the proclamation will be signed next week by Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson.

He said that in addition to acknowledging the expulsions as part of Canadian history, there also will be a special commemorative day - July 28.

"We finally have a document that recognizes the events surrounding that very sad part of our history," Chiasson said.

"That, to me, is important. People are always revising history and undermining certain events. The fact that it is now recognized in this proclamation makes it a reality."

Chiasson said 2005 is the 250th anniversary of the expulsions.

He said the proclamation will be incorporated into commemorative activities. As well, he said it is hoped there will be a royal visit to the Maritimes during 2005.

The decision by British governors to remove an entire ethnic population - the French-speaking Acadians - from the colony of Nova Scotia had consequences that resonated for generations.

It's believed about 11,000 Acadians were deported from what is now the Maritimes. Some were sent to France, but most wound up scattered through the American colonies.

It's estimated another 3,000 hid in the region's forests and in Quebec.

Others sailed south to Louisiana where, over the centuries, they lost their language and much of their culture in the huge U.S. melting pot.

There are now about 245,000 francophones, most of them Acadians, in New Brunswick, with another 34,000 Acadians in Nova Scotia and 5,500 in Prince Edward Island.

The British Crown has made several mea culpas in recent years, including to the Maori people of New Zealand who lost vast tracts of territory to land-hungry settlers over 130 years ago.

It has also issued apologies relating to the Boer war, the Irish potato famine and for Britian's role in the 1938 appeasement of Nazi Germany that led to the end of democracy in the Czech Republic, then part of Czechoslovakia.

As well, the British government recently offered "sincere regrets" for its home-children policy under which about 100,000 children, classed as orphans, were shipped from England to Canada between 1867 and 1939.

Chiasson's ancestors hid during the deportation, finally settling in Cheticamp, N.S., when the expulsion ended in the mid-1760s with a peace treaty between France and Britain.

He said lingering pain from being an unwanted and expelled people haunts Acadians to this day. He said their history has made the Acadian people who they are today and he believes their contribution, and suffering, needs to be recognized.

"It's not a question of looking back," Chiasson said. "It's a question of looking forward and knowing who you are."

© Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press

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