The following has been collected and collated by Marie-Reine Mikesell with contributions from Virgil Benoit and Ralph Naveaux. Marie-Reine Mikesell is a longtime promoter and activist for French Canadian culture. She has kindly agreed to prepare a ‘brief history’ of the activities with which she and her colleagues have engaged over the past many decades. This special edition of The Storykeepers Project reflects well on the diversity of our heritage and the collaborative spirit that has animated it through the late 20th and into the 21st centuries. —ed
April 1985 from the French in America calendar
There has been in the second half of the 20th century a successful effort to wake up the sleeping Canadiens in the Great Lakes and the Upper Mississippi. Such an endeavor always needs leaders. This is a brief recollection of three of them who surfaced during this time period in three different strategic locations.
It was the year 1958. We, the Mikesells, were brand new citizens of the State of Illinois. I knew that I was in a former territory of New France but, I asked, “where are les habitants?” The answer: they were invisible or mute. From that place and time I started a long voyage of discovery that would take me a quarter of a century later, in 1983, to Mackinac Island in the State of Michigan.
Word of the Week…en Michif!
li chirañ and lé chéráñ
The Northern Lights. Li/Lé is the definite article ‘the.’ Occasionally the word of the week will be from the Michif or Metis French lexicon. These languages developed out of the contact between French speakers and speakers of indigenous languages such as Cree and Ojibwe. According to some studies, Michif itself is a combination of Cree and Metis French with regional variations. This will be a learning experience for many of us, including myself! Sources: Wikepedia, Metis Resource Center, and Learning Michif.
MIKE LaFOREST for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
Readers will find three contributors to The Storykeepers Project named LaForest, including myself, Jesse LaForest, and now my brother Mike. Mike’s memories of growing up include a whole range of people and experiences that came well before my own birth. With large families like ours, it can be a bit like two generations of children in one! He relates in his contribution the importance of the wide range of family experiences he had in determining his connection to our heritage, especially the priceless time many of us were able to spend with our grandparents.—ed
A family picnic in the 1950s, at the family homestead, Tower, Michigan, including the family matriarch Mary (Peltier) Bernia.
Growing up in Northern Michigan was in every sense, a primer of French-Canadian heritage. My father was full-blooded French-Canadian, having family only two generations removed from himself, who were immigrants from Canada. I know from early conversations with his mother, my Grandma LaForest, that he could only speak French when he learned to talk, because his grandmother, my Great-Grandma Bernia was so instrumental in teaching him to speak. Of course, Grandma Bernia’s first language was also French, having been a child of French-Canadian immigrants herself and I presume that she was fluent in French as well, though my conversations with her were always in English.
Word of the Week…en Français!
journalier, ière /ʒuʀnalje, jɛʀ/ (noun)
Day laborer, especially in farm work, but not exclusively. Found widely in historical and contemporary sources, this is an excellent word to demonstrate the risk of ‘false friends’ and the proof of the adage ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ When I first encountered this word next to the name of a father in an Ontario birth registry, I thought – ‘he was a journalist!’ I then began to see the word more frequently and I thought, ‘Wow! There sure were a lot of journalists in French Ontario!’ Soon, I realized the error of my reading… sources: Family Search, Wiktionary, and Wikipedia.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, and the New Year in sight, I want to offer up a few thoughts about our progress as an organization and what we hope to do in the future.
This year we made great strides as a community in Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region. People became more connected to and aware of their heritage through French Canadian Heritage Day. Old neighborhoods seem almost reconstituted on Facebook. And for some people, a previously unrooted or unknown set of traditions was finally identified as French Canadian or Metis. For others, it has been an opportunity to proudly state their heritage – honoring it in themselves, for their children, and for their ancestors.
SUSAN COLBY for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
The story of New France is closely bound up with the story of religion. Officially open only to Catholics, historians show that early New France also saw Huguenots trickle in quite regularly. However, Roman Catholicism remained the dominant faith. But with the 19th and 20th centuries French Canadians, like all groups, became more free to break with tradition. Susan Colby’s ancestors are an example of French Canadians changing their practice and moving to America for a greater freedom of religion. —ed.
More than 150 years after Cadillac founded Detroit, nearly all the interior of Michigan was still wilderness. The forest seemed impenetrable. Trade and settlement stuck to the shores. Carving farms out of the heart of The Thumb was a daunting task, but some hardy French-Canadians and others took on the challenge. Arriving in 1856, my ancestors Gregoire Desjardins and Marie Trudeau, along with their five children and their extended family of Trudeaus and Filions, were among the first to establish prosperous farms in Huron County’s Bingham Township.
Word of the Week…en Français
babiche \buh-beesh\ (feminine noun)
Strips of hide, sinew or gut used in the webbing of snowshoes. This is an Algonquin (Mi’kmaq) loan word found in Canadian French. Babiche is traditionally made from raw animal material and is used in the construction of many functional items, such as bow strings, lacrosse rackets, and nets. Dictionary.com, Wiktionary, The Canadian Encyclopedia.