… like Rappie Pie!
How does one begin to describe this quintessential Acadian comfort food? The ingredients are familiar: potatoes, chicken, onions and broth.
Explaining the process sounds long and difficult. Grate potatoes, squeeze out the liquid, replace the liquid with broth, layer the gooey mixture (maybe that’s an un-appealing word but how else can you describe it?) with chicken, onions, and pork bits. Bake for hours.
The crusty, steaming, slimy (here we go again with un-appealing words!) subtly flavoured result shouts HOME! You just want to sit and enjoy.
Recently, I had the chance to sit and enjoy Grand-Pré 2017, a festival to celebrate and re-kindle the 400 year-old friendship between the Mi’kmaq people and the Acadian people. Like all friendships, everything has not been rosy in the last 400 years but like the Grand Chief reminded us, we have survived, now we can look forward.
The last fiddle notes and drumbeats have drifted away but I, like many others who had the privilege to be there, am still processing the experience.
Like Rappie Pie, the traditional Acadien casserole type dish, the whole weekend was hard to describe but oh so worthwhile.
Here is a lasting memory of one of the many informal conversations I had throughout the weekend.
A middle-aged Mi’kmaq woman said, “What’s that?” pointing at the sign for Rappie Pie: Râpure. The subtle scent of our bubbly baked delicacy was in the air but my feeble attempts at making it sound appealing finally culminated with me guiding her to the booth where she could see and sample the finished product.
The food tent was at the entrance of the magnificently arranged festival site. From there a line of brightly striped tents formed a colourful, informative and entertaining corridor. The sounds of music on the Main Stage drew people forward and on to the historic gardens and Memorial Church of the National Historic Site.
In the adjacent field a circle of tipi’s had been erected. Here, Mi’kmaq experts in storytelling, medicinal herbs, basket making, sacred fires, wigwam construction, and hide tanning shared their knowledge with people from many different backgrounds. Planked salmon cooking on open fires perfumed the air. Everyone seemed eager to learn about our provinces indigenous people, even on a rainy Saturday.
At the side of this circle of tipi’s (symbolically not quite part of the circle but close) was the yurt housing the Rendez-vous Acadien.
For three days, this venu was packed with people hungry to understand more about the Acadian-Mi’kmaq relationship with guest Mi’kmaq, Metis and Acadian experts.
At the beginning of the first day’s rencontre there was a Smudging Ceremony reminding me of the incense used in Catholic churches. It was easy to see this as a common practice between the first French explorers and Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Membertou who was baptized in 1604. Thereafter, his people followed his example.
From 1604 to 1632 there were no French women colonists in Acadie. It didn’t take long for the obvious liasons to take place between the French men and Mi’kmaq women. Alliances and marriages were desirable and encouraged on all sides. I learned that French Governor d’Aulnay had a son with a Mi’kmaq woman in Pentaguët. The governor’s grandson became a Wabanaki Chief. That’s just one of many documented cases. Let’s not forget Charles de LaTour, my famous ancestor who had Mi’kmaq wives and children!
Once French families arrived in the 1630’s, these alliances between the French and Mi’kmaq continued and the resulting Metis were a part of Mi’kmaq or Acadian communities. All sorts of personal reasons must have determined which community was chosen.
Usually, Acadian farming communities were established along the coast. That didn’t bother the Mi’kmaq because the forest was still available. The fur trade was the main reason to maintain contact with Europeans anyway.
Because of their familiarity with both cultures, Métis descendants were often translators and guides. We learned that in 1716, Jeanne Mius d’Entremont was hired as an interpreter for the French in Louisbourg.
In 1750, a priest sending a report noted the close ties between Acadians and Mi’kmaq this way “Les deux peoples sont fondé ensemble.”
Many of us in the Rendez-vous tent could recall only frosty relations between Acadians and Mi’kmaq in the last part of the 1900’s.
The burning question was obvious: “If things were good at the start but became bad. What caused the break?” As you would expect, it’s complicated, even more than Rappie Pie…. which can be a flop if you mix the wrong ingredients.
The experts spoke of the impact of the Treaty of Utrech (1713), which determined that NS would be a British territory once and for all.
The Mi’kmaq resist this declaration. The concept of land ownership is foreign to them. Their teachings say: the land doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the land.
They maintain their historical allegiance to the French.
New England sends raiders.
17th and 18th century Acadians can be clannish and don’t always encourage intermarriage between themselves and indigenous people.
The Acadian bourgeoisie stay close to the capital.
The Metis feel threatened and move east, away from Port Royal, to Pisiquit and Cobequit.
The Acadians (and Métis living in Acadian communities) take great pains to emphasize their position of Neutrality for the security of their families and lands throughout Acadie.
Eventually, the Mi’kmaq sign a peace treaty with the British in 1752.
Neutrality doesn’t work for any of the Acadians. The Deportation of 1755 clears out most of the population (including the mixed-blood Metis who were a part of Acadian communities and the bourgeoisie.)
After 1763, Acadians slowly return in small numbers and greatly depleted. It is hard to find good news in Acadian history for a hundred years after that.
The Confederation of Canada is proclaimed in 1867.
Nine years later, Reserves to control land and people are established by the Indian Act of 1876 and Residential Schools are established to assimilate “Indians” into society from the 1870’s to the 1990’s.
We heard that from 1800-1950 the Federal government sends only Anglophone teachers into aboriginal communities. Cultural impressions are propagated through language and literature. The message is clear: “You can’t trust the French and Indians”.
Here, it’s good to remember that Acadian history’s pivotal motivation has been the importance of family and independence. In the face of these examples, is it any wonder that, as one of the presenters stated, the Acadian position was: “Whatever we are, we’re not them”.
A stark example of this is, in the 1860’s the so-called Acadian Élite deny the obvious, propagating the Evangeline Myth to build a pure Acadian National Identity.
Yes, there is work to do but unlike other groups, the Mi’kmaq and Acadian people have a common foundation of peace and friendship to build upon, that’s a great place to start.
In 2017 the first Rassemblement de paix et d’amitié du people mi’kmaq et du people acadien was held from August 10-13. There were corporate sponsors including many government agencies, media and community partners. The historic site was buzzing with activity and positive energy.
Like I said, it’s complicated and hard to explain but like Rappie Pie, this first rencontre was worth the time and effort.
Many people expressed a desire for more of these gatherings for peace, friendship and reconciliation.
We can’t wait another 400 years!