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"It is important that the traditions and beliefs of the Acadians be shared with others to foster a better understanding of our history and people . . .,"
testified Senator William S. Cohen at a 1990 U.S. Senate hearing (U.S. Congress 1990a: 54). Senator George J. Mitchell advocated programs to "celebrate, preserve and perpetuate Acadian music, arts, crafts, and folklore" (U. S. Congress 1990a: 44). In testimony prepared for a U.S. House of Representatives hearing (July 17, 1990), Congresswoman Olympia J. Snowe stated that federal legislation to provide for the preservation and interpretation of Acadian culture in Maine "affords us the opportunity to help preserve--not embalm--an integral part of our state's heritage and present." Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives John L. Martin argued in testimony prepared for the same House hearing that "this legislation will help preserve Acadian culture, a way of life in the St. John Valley of Northern Maine . . .."

To fulfill the mandate of legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress following the above testimony, the National Park Service is developing a partnership program for the benefit and education of the public. The program will tell the story of the French-speaking settlers of the Upper St. John Valley and their descendants. It will help local governments, the State of Maine, and other public and private entities identify and preserve significant sites, historical records, artifacts, and objects associated with Maine Acadian culture. The partnership will also support state and local efforts to preserve distinctive forms of cultural expression, such as language, performing arts, crafts, and folklore.

This document is a component of the emerging partnership program. It was prepared by the National Park Service based on contributions from Maine Acadians and a diverse group of cultural professionals. It supports National Park Service planning efforts (see final chapter). The report is being submitted to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in response the legislators' direction to prepare "a comprehensive study of Acadian culture in Maine" (U.S. Congress 1990b). This report to Congress is comprehensive in that it is broad in scope, with the depth of analysis being dependent upon available data. The final chapter recommends research needed to develop a fuller understanding of Maine Acadian culture.


Acadian Culture in Maine is a synthesis of many voices. Congressional testimony and the legislation that led to National Park Service involvement support interdisciplinary study of Acadian culture in Maine. Expertise in history, anthropology, folklife, historic preservation, museum management, site interpretation, natural resource conservation, and other disciplines is represented in this report. To provide initial background, the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, conducted a survey of Maine Acadian culture for the National Park Service. Additional contributors to this report include cultural professionals from the State of Maine, University of Maine System, Université de Moncton (New Brunswick), the National Park Service, and independent consultants.

The National Park Service is committed to full public participation in all efforts related to conserving Acadian culture in Maine. Suggestions and comments from the Maine Acadian Culture Preservation Commission, community scholars, and the general public have been incorporated into this report, which is the final version of the 1992 public review draft. The public--senior citizens, business owners, farmers, high school students, teachers, visitors, and others--contributed by commenting at public meetings, by participating in focus groups, and by offering written suggestions.

What is Maine Acadian culture? Every culture is complex, encompassing human experience past, present, and future; culture consists of ideas and behaviors shared by a group of people over time and space. Culture is dynamic. Its elements, such as values, institutions, and beliefs, change at different rates. Culture is adaptive. Innovation, as well as contact with other groups, leads to cultural change in some areas, while others remain the same. Maine Acadian culture is complex, dynamic, and adaptive. These fundamental principles help shape one's understanding of Maine Acadian culture. Conclusions drawn from studying the culture are also shaped by the purposes of the study and the approach used.

Contemporary study of Acadian culture in Maine can be grouped according to three broad purposes. First, many Maine Acadians are actively documenting their culture for both personal and public purposes, acting individually and through organizations such as historical societies and family reunion committees. Second, cultural professionals--such as folklorists, historians, and geographers--are conducting research related to cultural identity, ethnohistory, and other scholarly issues. Third, data being collected by the National Park Service and other governmental agencies addresses Maine Acadian culture in relation to policy and planning concerns.

In addition to varying study goals, differing study approaches are also evident. Some, such as the approach employed in Acadian Culture in Maine, treat Maine Acadians as a historically significant, regional ethnic group within the United States. The group's inland location and land-based economy (especially potato farming and lumbering), combined with diverse origins (predominantly Acadian and Québecois, but to some extent Native American and Scots-Irish), distinguish Maine Acadians from other rural populations in Maine, as well as from other Acadian-heritage groups such as Louisiana Cajuns.

Setting boundaries for a study of a culture results in only a partial understanding of that culture. Two fundamental questions--Who? and Where?--encapsulate critical concerns for circumscribing the study of Acadian culture in Maine. As used in this report, "Maine Acadian" means an American of French descent connected by heritage to the Upper St. John Valley, including but not limited to genealogical descendants of early Acadian settlers of the valley. The term is closest to the local meaning of "French" when used in the Upper St. John Valley in contrast to "English."

The primary locus of Acadian culture in Maine, in terms of vitality and distinctive character, is the Upper St. John River Valley in northern Aroostook County (see regional context map below). Although populations of Acadian descent can be found in other parts of the state, scholarly and popular publications, as well as comments solicited from Maine residents, indicate that the Upper St. John Valley is the "hearth" for Maine Acadian culture. Acadian enclaves elsewhere in Maine, where residents consider themselves unrelated to Maine Acadians and the Upper St. John Valley, are not treated in this report.

Regional Context: Upper Saint John ValleyThe St. John River flows 435 miles from northern Maine to the Bay of Fundy. Beginning at St. Francis, Maine, approximately 100 miles from the headwaters, downstream to Hamlin, Maine, the river forms the international boundary between the United States and Canada. The 70-mile-long stretch of the St. John River from St. Francis to Hamlin is the focus of Acadian Culture in Maine. The study area encompasses U.S. villages and towns located on or near the banks of the river as well as the "back settlements," farmsteads created when territory away from the river was progressively cleared and developed. The concentrated settlements and farmlands of the study area present a sharp contrast to the sparsely populated woodlands immediately to the south. One key indicator of the area's cultural distinctiveness is the fact that the Upper St. John Valley is commonly known within Aroostook County and much of Maine simply as "the Valley." Many local residents refer to it as "chez nous" (our place). Click here for a map of the study area. [Upper St. John Valley]

This report recognizes, but does not emphasize, historical and cultural links, resulting from migration and intermarriage, between the Upper St. John Valley and both the Maritime Provinces and the Province of Québec. Clearly the proximity of New Brunswick and Québec creates complex patterns of cultural convergence and differentiation. Comparing elements of Maine Acadian culture to cultural traits found in neighboring Canada (or in France) addresses issues related to the border shared by Canada and the United States, and the international status of Maine Acadians. Such comparative approaches highlight the commonalties within these international and "borderland" contexts. However, such approaches also tend to obscure the distinctiveness of Maine Acadian culture when viewed within the United States, and thus are less suited to the work being undertaken by the National Park Service.

This report is only a beginning. Perhaps its greatest value is highlighting the need for systematic study of a rich regionally based ethnic culture. The chapters of Acadian Culture in Maine are organized as follows:

  • Maine Acadians: Components of Contemporary Identity--This chapter explores several ways in which Upper St. John Valley people identify themselves as Maine Acadians and some ways in which they give meaning to that contemporary identity in public settings.
  • Roots of Maine Acadian Culture--This chapter reviews the origins of contemporary Maine Acadian culture and identity.
  • Maine Acadians and the Land--This chapter briefly describes the ethnographic landscape along with the historical land tenure and land use of the Upper St. John Valley.
  • Traditions of the Valley--This chapter is comprised of brief descriptions of the language, oral traditions, music and dance, foods, textiles, furniture, and architecture of the Upper St. John Valley.
  • Preserving The Past--Upper St. John Valley properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places; Valley museums, historic sites and archives; and related interpretive programs are described in this chapter.
  • Partners Conserving Maine Acadian Culture--This concluding chapter presents a summary of National Park Service efforts to interpret and conserve Acadian culture in Maine.
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