A “No-French” law passed in 1919 contributed to the diminishing of a once-thriving Franco-American language
MADAWASKA, Maine — If you lived in parts of the Saint John Valley more than 200 years ago, you grew up speaking French. Before Maine became a state, much of this land was actually in New Brunswick.
Fifty years ago, 14 percent of Maine called French its native language.
But over time, ties between the two cultures eroded. The push to become fully Americanized was strong. Many Mainers who grew up hearing French spoken at home remember being punished for speaking it at school.
“We never really had any ability to understand the French language or even have it spoken to us because our parents were told by their parents that they shouldn’t speak French because they’ll get in trouble,” Maine Senate President Troy Jackson said.
“I didn’t speak French to my children because I did not want them to go through what I went through,” retired Frenchville Superintendent Lisa Bernier said.
Today, none of the public elementary schools in the Saint John Valley have a full-time French program. Structured french programs start in middle school.
And today, only four percent of Mainers say their first language is French.
But several organizations are now working to return the Franco-Acadian culture to this part of the state.
The French Embassy in Washington D.C., L’Association Francaise in the St. John Valley, the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the Franco American programs at the University of Maine, and others hope to return a stolen heritage to these Mainers.
“We need to know who we are, and where we come from, and it is not a negative,” Saint John Valley priest and historian Jaques LaPointe said. “We are not less American because we recognize that we have roots that come from elsewhere.”
Tune in Thursday and Friday exclusively on NEWS CENTER Maine at 6 p.m. as Hannah Yechivi reports what’s left of the French-Acadian culture and French language in Maine.