Acadian Chronicles: When Ancestors Look Down

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So Much at Stake

I don’t feel upset anymore; I mostly feel peace. Why? Because of the Protectors. Nobody understands how lucky I am. I used to cry much too much. I should be more like Maman and stand strong and not show my pain, but, finally, good things are going to happen! At least now I know our moving to Palm Springs has something to do with positive changes. No doubt Violette and I can make peace for the whole family if we work together. It’s amazing. I have Protectors, just like the ones who helped my Oncle Gabriel, a shaman in New Brunswick, and Violette has incredible insights. Violette understands people right away, no matter how hard they try to cover up; in a blink, she knows what makes them tick. It’s almost magical. She’s always one step ahead. We both have our gifts. I keep mine under wraps, but tomorrow I’ll tell Violette about the Protectors. She has to know. She thinks I’m acting goofy when they communicate with me. Those messages knock me out, but they promise peace for the whole family.

Then Victoria giggled with anticipation, pushing her glasses, before removing them and twirling them twice, then putting them back on.

“I’m just not patient!” Vicky cried passionately. “I’ve never been patient!”

That instant, Vicky looked up at the mountain top and lost her concentration, dropping to her knees. Chin up, back stiff, her mental powers focused like a beam to the peak, her thoughts connecting at laser speed with something bright and eternal. Out of breath, Vicky whispers:

“Yes, please take me to the castle!”

One of the Protectors insists:

“We can’t, not yet, daughter of the Great North, but soon we’ll guide you. You must talk to Violette first and prepare her to visit the castle with you.”

Through her entire body, Vicky felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before, her heart racing; cold sweat began to gather on her face as her lips parted, and she began to gasp. Soon she would be walking home from the park with Violette, her sister still swinging a few yards away with other children. Isolated on the playground, Vicky’s supine body relaxed. The fading sunlight helped transport her somewhere invisible, far beyond herself. She could taste wild shrubs wafting out of wind-swept canyons, mixed with mountain sage, along with the smells of a brackish pond and the dust of desert-baked footpaths, making Vicky’s mind float heavenwards. She no longer imagined anything but felt peace. Her eyes closed, her respiration now normal, still in communication with the Eternal Ones, Vicky whispers softly:

“Thank you. I’ll tell Violette tomorrow.”

These days, Vicky and Violette have only faint memories of living in New Brunswick. Marguerite Blanchard, their mother, however, makes sure they celebrate the best of Acadia. Marguerite never wanted to quit New Brunswick, her ancestral home. Her French ancestors had arrived there from Poitou in the early 1600s. So what happened? She was forced out of New Brunswick, though very dedicated to building her future there – first, by obtaining a university degree in Moncton, then by securing good employment, finally, by marrying a devoted companion she had met at university, with whom she started a loving family.

Her brother-in-law drove Marguerite out, having schemed with his tribe’s elders and local provincial authorities to make it impossible for her to stay. He didn’t want her in the family, resenting her for reasons she never understood. She and her Mi’kmaw husband had to hire an attorney and sought police protection as the threats mounted, but the in-law had too much provincial influence. This brother-in-law fueled a bitter family feud in favor of his half-brother’s first wife, also a Mi’kmaw, whom Marguerite’s husband had divorced before meeting Marguerite. Marguerite was embroiled in this mess over her head, eventually forced to flee the same day her husband disappeared, likely kidnapped by thugs. Fearing for her life, Marguerite escaped to Los Angeles by air that same day, with one carry-on to her name, pregnant with Max, her two daughters in tow. She hoped somehow later in California to find out the whereabouts of her husband, once their children were relocated a safe distance from the in-law.

Leaving the playground with Vicky, Violette spied a dark dot scurrying on the footpath, searching in vain for the French word to tell her sister:

Regarde, un… un… roly poly! C’est si mignon!”

Violette crouched down to touch it, watching it curl into a black pearl. Vicky kneeled too, each girl taking turns to roll the shiny ball -- ever so gently -- back and forth. Violette could easily have chosen another name – pill bug, potato bug, doodle bug and woodlouse, multiple choices at the tip of her tongue, but not a single French name surfaced a moment ago. All the French choices had slipped into oblivion, after her playing with English-speaking girls that afternoon. Violette grumbles about her use of French getting trickier. English vocabulary now pops out faster than ever. This trend makes Marguerite plan at home fun interactive games, to build French vocabulary, while singing more folk songs with the girls, so her daughters might keep alive their Acadian heritage.

Nearly home, Vicky adds another comment about roly polies:

“Remember, Violette, Maman says roly polies aren’t dangerous. They don’t sting, bite or transmit disease. Still, it’s odd to see them here in a desert climate, since they love shade and dampness. They must have adapted. Maman said they’re not native to America. That means our ancient ancestors in the Great North never played with roly polies, and for the same reason, those ancestors never saw a sparrow fly nor did they ever imagine a honey bee before Europeans brought these species to America. Maman says for sure there were already bees in America that pollinated plants, but not the kind that makes honey. Maman says that’s why our ancestors invented delicious maple syrup.”

“Yum, I love maple syrup! Well, I should, I’m half Mi’kmaw. I’m so glad to be native to America. Didn’t Maman also say roly polies aren’t insects? But if they’re not bugs, what are they?”

“Land crustaceans, cousins to marine shrimp and lobsters, but much smaller and cuter. Some people claim, once grilled, they taste just like shrimp, but who would want to grill a roly poly? What a mean thing to do. I wouldn’t, even if I was starving.”

“They’re too adorable!” Violette chimbed in. “It’s amazing how much Maman knows about animals and plants! Funny, she’s quiet and hardly talks, but when we ask her questions, wow, she’s like Alexa, a database of information. She’s so smart, just like Papa. Vicky, didn’t Maman once tell you birds are related to dinosaurs? I can’t believe that. It seems crazy. Was she joking?”

“Violette, I don’t think Maman would ever make jokes about Nature. She respects Nature too much and wants us to do the same. You know where Maman learned so much, Violette? She majored in history at university and minored in biology in Moncton, New Brunswick, where they offer full programs in French. She also doesn’t want us to forget we are Acadiennes and Mi’kmaq.”

“But we don’t speak Algonquian.”

“Papa was going to teach us, Violette. He grew up speaking it, and he made sure that you and I always have tribal affiliation. That can’t be taken away from us.”

“I remember, Vicky, waiting one day to cross the street in Moncton, Maman was speaking French to us, and a by-stander complained, ’Talk ‘White,’ Madam, this is an English-speaking city.’ Vicky, isn’t French, like English, a White Man’s language?”

“Yes, but not all Canadians like hearing French in their streets. Or maybe he assumed we were Mi’kmaq off our reservation, visiting Moncton, that is, if he noticed my skin and hair color, since I’m the spitting image of Papa’s mother.”

“But Maman is Acadian with honey-blond hair. I too was standing with you, as pale as Maman, with my chestnut braids. Okay, I’m definitely half-Mi’kmaw, but I look more like Maman’s family.”

“That’s true, in fact, because of your fair complexion, Maman used to tease Papa, insisting he must have some Norse DNA from the Vikings who once explored and built temporary settlements in Canada, way before the French arrived.”

“In any case, Vicky, Maman told us all biologists claim there’s only one human race on this planet. We’re all one big family. If that’s true, why is there so much racism, even in Palm Springs?”

“What do you mean, Violette?”

“Remember our first day at school in Palm Springs? Our teachers introduced us as Acadians. Alexandra liked to make me cry, calling me Evangeline, the name of the heart-broken deportee in Longfellow’s poem, and Betsy in your class called you Pocahontas after you told her you’re half Indian. Word spread that we grew up with alligators. Some kids teased us about smelling like the swamps, nicknaming us the Cajun Sisters.”

“That’s the past, Violette. We now have good friends at school, but let’s remember a lot of groups are treated unfairly. That’s never right. Cajuns were treated badly when they were deported from Canada, after the French lost control of Acadia. Maman said the Acadians were deported during the French and Indian War by Major Charles Lawrence, after he demanded in 1754 that Acadians take an oath of loyalty to the British king and renounce their Catholic faith.

The British major considered all 15,000 Acadians to be a threat to British military security, but the Acadians had never taken sides during the French and British conflicts in North America.”

Vicky’s right. Standing firm in their neutrality, Acadians refused to accept the major’s demands. He then ordered that all Acadian men be rounded up and arrested. Within days, their farms, barns, churches and shops were burned to the ground, along with their crops and livestock. More than 11,000 Acadian men, women and children were hastily deported. Around 3,000 Acadians eluded capture. Around 5,000 made their way to Louisiana, unwelcome there, considered outcasts. Many settled in parts where no one else wanted to live, like the mosquito-infested swamps and bayous – those shallow, stagnant waterways, with very little or no current, a word earlier French settlers had adapted from the Choctaw bàjuk “little river.” Like the roly polies that learned to survive in the desert heat, many Cajuns started over in the swamplands of Louisiana.

“Vicky, if we had a woman president, would things be better?”

“I don’t know. Women in government, Maman says, can only be taken seriously if they act the same way as men do in power. It’s the same old, same old, whether it’s a woman or a man. Maman thinks it won’t make much difference.”

“I think it would make a difference. I’d vote for you, Vicky. I’d like you to be president one day.”

“If I get nominated, I promise, Violette, I’ll ask you to be my vice-president. Is it a deal?”

“Agreed!”

“By the way, do you remember the French word for roly poly?”

“Yeah, it came back to me – cloporte.”

“That’s it! Maman explained it’s from ’Clos porte!’ / ’Close door!’ like someone warning the cutie to curl up for safety.”

“Vicky, we’re home! Hey, let’s keep our doors open, okay? It’s safer that way.”

“I couldn’t agree more. I have a secret to share, but it can wait. I’m starving! Let’s go set the table.”

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