Stories help create understanding and keep history alive
- Janice Bird | February 01, 2023
Paula Daigle’s world revolves around books, but she has her own unique story to share.
Originally from the east coast, the First Nation University of Canada (FNUniv) librarian is far from home.
Daigle was raised in Halifax, N.S., but her story begins with her father who is from the Acadian fishing village of the Baie-Sainte-Anne in New Brunswick.
The fishing community, located on the Miramichi Bay, has Acadian roots dating back to the late 1700s. The majority of those from the area are bilingual with many still speaking Acadian French.
Acadians, like Indigenous people, have a very distinct identity within Canada.
They are the ancestors of the Cajuns, having been deported there after the 1755 Expulsion of the Acadians. However, some escaped the deportation and stayed in Canada, explained Daigle.
She shares a little about her culture, some of which First Nations can identify with.
Daigle said many Acadian traditions involve food and this includes storytelling.
It’s customary for an Acadian to bring food as gifts and once the food is shared so are the stories, which are sometimes accompanied by music and song.
Similarily, First Nations will gift tobacco to an Elder or Knowledge Keeper before stories or knowledge is shared.
Daigle said the family storyteller is her aunt Séraphie Daigle-Martin, whose stories date back to the early 1600s even before the Acadians immigrated from France. These stories have been archived at the Université de Moncton and studied in Louisiana and France.
However, it’s the stories of Little People Daigle remembers most vividly.
She said there are family stories of the Little People who would visit her grandmother. There were also stories of how the Little People used to braid the manes of horses.
In comparison, the Cree have stories of the Little People also known as the mêmêkwêsiwak.
Traditionally, stories are told once there is snow on the ground.
Elders will often share stories of their own encounters with the mêmêkwêsiwak, but young people also talk about incidents with the Little People.
A common practice among First Nations is the act of making relatives.
When meeting someone for the first time, family ties are often uncovered, whether through blood or marriage, because family history is important.
Daigle explained Acadians keep track of their own history in a similar manner.
For example, her father was given the nickname “TiMon,” a shortened version of Petit Raymond or little Raymond and, when asked, she identifies herself in a unique way.
She will say, “Paula à Timon à Fred à Jacques à Julien.” When translated this means Paula of Timon (her father) of Fred (her grandfather) of Jacques (his father) of Julien (his father).
People of Acadian heritage share similarities with First Nations, especially those who rely on the land for their livelihood because stories of the land are universal.
Not only are stories a way to learn about a family, a community and a culture—they help to preserve history, as is the case for First Nations and Acadians alike.