In the 17th century, a group of French families colonized land in the area now known as Nouvelle Écosse (Nova Scotia), then referred to as L’Acadie. Les Acadiens, as they called themselves, were a simple people, who highly valued their God and their families. They wisely settled the best lands in the region, and developed a rich, though simple, prosperous society. But the prosperity was short-lived. Soon the British arrived. In a brutal act of ethnic cleansing, the British overwhelmed the Acadians, took away their land, burned their homes, and separated their families. Large numbers of Acadians were packed into cramped boats and deported to the sea. This traumatic period in Acadian history is what we call “le grand derangement.”
For the first ten or so years, the Acadians were scattered among the American colonies, England, and France. Eventually a few groups found their way to Louisiana where they were welcomed by the then Spanish government. Word quickly spread that a “new Acadie” was being formed, and over the next few decades, many Acadian families found their way to Louisiana and were united again with family. And indeed, a new Acadie was born.
While the Acadians remained the major population in South Louisiana for quite some time, they quickly found themselves surrounded by more and more cultural influences. Eventually, Spanish, French, German, and Native American Indian elements blended with the Acadian culture to form what is now known as Cajun (Cadien) culture. The French language remained the dominant language in South Louisiana until the early 20th century, when a state mandate forbade the speaking of French on the school grounds. Two generations of Cajuns were punished and made to feel ashamed for speaking French. Subsequently, the language (which is at the heart of the culture) nearly died. In 1968, the CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was formed and the tide began to turn. A renaissance of the French language was spurred by French immersion programs throughout South Louisiana. Today, thanks to the efforts of groups like CODOFIL, ACTION CADIENNE, the Cajun French Music Association, L’Acadjin and others, the Cajun culture and French language is experiencing new prosperity. Vivre le français et vivre les cadiens!