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In addition to what they call themselves, the way in which Upper St. John Valley residents express their understanding of their cultural identity is shaped by many factors. For instance, discussion of Maine Acadian worldview is always influenced by who is asking about the subject and of whom; the respective age, gender, and educational and economic status of each person involved in the discussion; what community each is from; whether they have experienced stigmatization based on ethnic, religious, or linguistic affiliation; and the context and language in which the discussion is conducted.
Like many contemporary Maine Acadian stories that are conveyed in public gatherings, the above anecdote primarily serves the local audience by weaving the past with the present to reinforce current views of group identity and appropriate behavior. First, stating that the conversation took place just before Christmas serves as a reminder of the group's Catholic heritage. Second, the teller suggests the appropriate distancing between public and private Maine Acadian "selves." Though he had known the man for more than 30 years, this was the first time that this personal information was conferred by the prominent individual. Third, the teller acknowledges his prior assumptions and recognizes farm and town distinctions in distinguishing between Daigle and Fort Kent as the other man's birthplace. Fourth, identifying the man's mother as a Daigle indicates descent from one of the first Acadian families in the Valley and lineal connection to land, both of which are widely valued attributes. Finally, Pelletier is a long-established Valley family name of Québecois origin, thus making the man "everything [Maine Acadian] there was there."
Maine Acadians, and many other American ethnic groups, contribute to their sense of distinctive identity within the larger society by distinguishing between themselves and other cultural groups. Notably, while Brassieur (1992) identified numerous similarities with the culture of Louisiana Cajuns, Maine Acadians do not generally think of the two groups as closely related. Maine Acadians more frequently recognize their cultural kinship with Acadians and Québecoisé in Canada. The following story about the origin of the name "Farlagne," told by Louis Chartier in a focus group on Maine Acadian identity (1993), suggests that on both sides of the Valley there is a principal distinction between those who
While contemporary Maine Acadians maintain social and business ties to New Brunswick and Québec, they feel distinctly American. They point to their active, long-time participation in the American political and educational systems, along with exemplary military service, as evidence of their identification with the United States and similarity to other Americans. They often refer with pride to Valley residents who have held leadership roles in the Maine legislative and judicial systems. As often as Maine Acadians in the Upper St. John Valley recount family ties to Canada, they cite relatives living in New England, as well as Florida, California, and other states. When the issue arises, American residents of the Valley clearly distinguish their cultural identity as Maine Acadians from the political connotations they associate with being "French" in neighboring Canada. Shirley Harrigan of Madawaska explains a common Maine Acadian view of the difference between themselves and their neighbors and relations across the river (focus group 1993):
Still, people from both sides of the Valley participate in cultural and sporting events together, and in Van Buren, Maine, and Saint-Léonard, New Brunswick, they share in an annual festival, Festival des deux rives. These two towns share a common municipal flag, chosen in 1989 upon the 200th anniversary of the founding of their communities (LaPointe 1989: 346). Nonetheless, addressing the Maine Acadian Culture Commission (May 1993), Guy Dubay captured the predominant view:
Unlike relations with nearby Canadian and American groups of French descent, connections between Maine Acadians and less culturally similar groups in Northern Maine are not widely acknowledged in the Valley. For instance, when contact with Native Americans is addressed in public expressions of Maine Acadian identity, the belief is commonly expressed that Maine Acadians have consistently enjoyed good relations with the Maliseet and Micmac, but have been little influenced by Native American cultures. Several factors suggest a more complex history of interaction with Native Americans. Genealogies show intermarriages occurring in the St. John Valley from early European settlement up to the present day.
Evidence of extensive contributions to Maine Acadian culture by the Micmac and Maliseet can be detected in a number of widely known Maine Acadian legends, songs, poems, and place names. The widespread use of plants, tools, and other implements of Native American origin and manufacture is also evident in the Valley. For example, one of the hand tools traditionally used by the Micmac in basketmaking is the "crooked knife." Use of this distinctive woodworking tool requires that it be pulled toward the user. Maine Acadians learned to use crooked knives from their Native American neighbors, and it became a favored tool for making axe and other tool handles, baskets, and canoes, and for fashioning other items used on the farm and in the lumber camp (cf. Brainard 1962: 175; Witthoft 1963: 199 and 208; Blodgett 1964: 287).
Scots-Irish, English, Yankees, and Swedes are considered by Maine Acadians to be collectively "English." Connections with these neighboring groups are discouraged by the local conviction, particularly prevalent among older Maine Acadians, that "English" and "French" cultures are fundamentally incompatible. Disdain for these neighboring groups arose during the long period of their political and economic domination over Maine Acadians, and is sustained by the continuing prejudice encountered by the French outside the Valley.
A fuller analysis of the origins of locally adopted "English" cultural patterns and those derived from shared American experience that comprise elements of contemporary Maine Acadian culture, would require ethnographic and comparative study beyond the scope of this report.