By teaching French Canadian culture in our schools, the state can do right by the residents of its mill communities.

One January afternoon, after a session of the Legislature adjourned, I walked across the State House tunnel. Evan Haynes’ sculpture “Comunique (2001)” was incorporated into the walls of the corridor.

It merges texts in French and the Eastern Algonquin languages (with English translations), recalling the tenacious link between the French and indigenous worlds that have existed in Maine.

The sculpture stands in strong testimony to the non-English origins of Maine’s history. I couldn’t help thinking of the irony as I walked to the Department of Education, as a recent graduate of the University of New England’s Graduate Teacher Certification Program, to pick up my teaching certificate in person, moving closer to becoming one of that professionally salaried one percent.

This legislative session, as a state representative and a certified social studies teacher, I have submitted legislation to incorporate Franco-American history and culture into the Maine Learning Results for social studies curriculum in our public schools.

As the first in my family to attend college, I never felt discriminated against for being French. I didn’t have a French accent like my father had as a child, and as far as I was concerned, I was as American as anyone else in our New Auburn neighborhood

It was much later in life when I decided to attend graduate school to become a teacher that I saw the legacy of cultural discrimination affect me. In many ways, I found subtle forms of institutional discrimination still existed, rooted in the history of French Americanization.

Lewiston-Auburn is the second-largest metropolitan area in southern Maine and yet, the nearest educational training programs for my teacher certification are in Gorham and Biddeford. In my hours commuting there while pursuing a graduate degree, one question nagged me: Why can’t I do this in Lewiston?

A brief study of the history of post-secondary education in Maine reveals an ugly and obvious truth, because I come from a Franco community where the Legislature failed to establish a small college until the late 1970s.

Currently, the state’s directive to teachers fails to mention anything at all about this rich cultural past in the state’s history. The inspiration for this bill came from a close mentor, Dr. Barry Rodrigue, professor of French North American Studies at USM-LAC.

Rodrique, in collaboration with Dr. Dean Louder of Laval University in Quebec, wrote the following in their essay “Renaissance: Franco-Maine In A New Millennium:”

“The State of Maine penetrates into the heart of French Canada like an arrow,” they wrote. “Since much of the state lies ‘inside’ of Canada and provides better access to the ‘mother country,’ Franco-American contacts with Canada have been better preserved in Maine than elsewhere in the United States.”

They also note: “In addition, many scholars in the United States frequently did not keep abreast of newer studies published in Canada – usually in French – and had a tendency to present an outmoded, English-biased description of French-Canadian and Acadian society, as well as a simplified and prejudicial vision of their emigration to New England. Much that has been produced in English by Anglo-American academics on the French in Maine – over the last three decades – has appeared within works about the wider region or more general topics. Frequently, such coverage is uneven.”

A movement in Maine’s post-secondary institutions has sought to address this issue. Academic minors were established in 2000 in French North American Studies at the University of Southern Maine and in Franco-American Studies at the University of Maine, while the number of courses on Franco-America have multiplied in other institutions of higher education throughout the state.

Also in 2000, a representative of each of these programs met with one from the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent to found the Maine Franco-American Studies Alliance. Its mission is to foster cooperation between the respective institutions and to assure community participation in Franco-American studies throughout the state’s public universities.

The time has come to modestly incorporate this historically neglected, yet major part of Maine’s history and culture into our public school curriculum. I’m proud to sponsor LD 422 and look forward to a career as a teacher charged with the responsibility of “survivance.”

Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn, represents House District 69.

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