French History/Heritage

IF Midwest Tour

July 2008 Commentaries




1) Dick Bernard's Report on the IF Midwest May 2-3, 2008 Metis Heritage Tour:


From: Dick Bernard []

Sent: Thu 7/10/2008 8:33 PM

To: Dick Bernard's List

Subject: Meeting Jack Fiddler



Sent: Sunday, June 08, 2008 8:28 AM

Subject: P&J#1679A Meeting Jack Fiddler




    It was May 2, 2008, and we were nearing the end of a stimulating and exhausting day on a French-Canadian/Metis heritage tour, and our bus was humming along towards our destination of Belcourt ND, near the International Peace Garden, and in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. 


    At one point, when we were both awake, I asked tour leader Dr. Virgil Benoit, who was sitting across from me, what it was that triggered his obviously strong sense of compassion and justice.  I've known Dr. Benoit, though not well, for perhaps 25 years, and compassion and justice seem to ooze out of every pore.


    Virgil answered almost immediately, remembering a long-ago encounter, when he was perhaps 22, with Roger Jourdain, the legendary, long-term and often controversial chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. 



    We rode on.  Exactly what happened in the encounter between a young white man and a native American elder is irrelevant. 


    But whatever it was has had a lifelong impact on Dr. Benoit, farm boy from Red Lake Falls MN, professor of French at the University of North Dakota, and passionate salesman for the heritage and relationship of French-Canadians, native Americans, Michif* and others of the midwest.  (Dr. Benoit's current project is at 


     The next day, May 3 at Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt, proved every bit as stimulating and exhausting as the previous day had been.


    At one point, I was walking past a table near the entrance to the auditorium, and noticed a stack of booklets near the wall.  


    They turned out to be extra 10-page booklets remembering the life of one Jack Fiddler, who reached 87 years of age before his death April 6, 2008, less than a month before our day at the college.  The booklet cover presented Jack as "Mr. Community College".  The stack of booklets seemed public property, there for the taking, so I took a couple and went on to my session.




    Fiddler seems to have been a pretty remarkable fellow: born in a one room home on the reservation, then educated in a one room school, then at Wahpeton and Flandreau Indian Schools, where he graduated about the time WWII began with what he later found was the academic level of an eighth grade student.  "Only 20 to 25 percent of the time was spent in the classrooms.  The remainder of the time was spent rehearsing for public events.  The policy of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] was to show us off.  We'd go on tour and perform," said Fiddler.


    After a tour in the Merchant Marine in WWII, embarked on a most interesting and productive life, overcoming obstacles that most of us in the dominant white culture did not.


    Some  would have become embittered.  Not Jack.  His "deepest passion and social involvement" came from his belief in self-determined tribal education for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.  With many others, Jack worked tirelessly to establish Turtle Mountain Community College.  The college was chartered by the tribe in 1971 and [became] one of the six original tribal colleges started in the early 1970's in the U.S...From its humble beginnings in the basement of an abandoned government building to the new 123-acre state of the art campus, Turtle Mountain Community College has become an integral part of the tribe as it strives to improve all levels of educational achievement...and public and private economic sustainability of

the Turtle Mountain Band...."


    The temporal community Jack Fiddler left on April 6 is not a perfect place, no more or less so than any community anywhere.  But what for certain he left behind was vision, pride and stamina for others to emulate.  One of them was Les Thomas, the local coordinator for our visit.  He documented our visit through video, and said that an objective would be film on YouTube. The Tribe is embarked on a major initiative to build its visibility and economic viability.  I'd give it good odds.  Dr. Benoit with his long-time passion to true dialogue and understanding between the native, Metis, and white cultures will help.


   Reaching any destination can be a long, difficult journey, but every trip is a succession of steps, hopefully mostly forward, but not all. 


    Friday morning of the trip I parked my car about a block from the immense hockey palace in Grand Forks, apparently called "The Ralph" by locals, but in fact, the Ralph Engelstad Hockey Arena, built for millions of donated dollars, with the pre-condition that the nickname of the college team remain the "Fighting Sioux".   You don't need to be much of a sports fan to have heard of the controversy over this.  "The Ralph" was a step back...or was it?  Sometimes negative symbols can lead to positive results.


    Several days earlier, I had picked up the April 28 Fargo (ND) Forum, and on the Opinion page was a long column by former ND Lieutenant Governor Lloyd Omdahl, which headlined "Apology is long overdue".  His column speaks for itself.



    Thanks Jack.  And Virgil, and Lloyd, and legions and legions of other women and men who in small ways and large make a huge difference every day.  I salute you all. 





* - I will not attempt to enter into a scholarly debate about the difference between the words Metis, Michif, Mitchif, is, first of all, a bit dangerous piece of 'water' to enter!  Even the pronunciation can be debated.  Mostly, let's say, it means mixed native and white ancestry, often Ojibway or Cree and French-Canadian, but not always.  It seems a variation on 'mestizo', but that would be a point of argument as well.  "half-breed" is yet another word (I am, I guess, a half-breed too, French-Canadian and German ancestry, roughly half and half.)  Oh well....



* * * * * * *


2) MaryEllen Weller book review - (from the May 2-3 Tour):


From: []

Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2008 1:01 PM


Subject: re IF Midwest tour-----an article


Riding the bus was an essential part of the French Heritage Tour sponsored by the IF Midwest May 2, 2008. Essential because of who was sitting in those seats. Some were on the program and many were authors of books related to French-Canadian heritage in the US.


What follows is a review of one of those books, a fascinating look at the US Civil War as an engine of French-Canadian immigration. It is not yet available in English.


MaryEllen Weller, French Instructor, Mesabi Range Community and Technical College, retired.


- - - - - - -


Les Canadiens Francais et la Guerre de Secession, 1861-1865, une autre dimension de leur migration aux Etats-Unis

(French Canadians and the War of Secession, 1861-1865, another dimension of their migration to the United States)


by Jean Lamarre, Professor of History, Royal Military College of Kingston, Ontario

Quebec: VLB Editeur, 2006.



Americans of French-Canadian descent are likely to find their first immigrant ancestor arrived here between 1840 and 1930. In those 90 years more than a million French-Canadians came south of the border. The numbers are especially high during the time of the American Civil War. Exactly why young men of 15 to 49 (average age 25.2) (p. 51) would choose to fight in a neighbor's civil war is addressed in Mr. Lamarre's intriguing book and the answers are surprising.


The facts and evidence on which this work is based represent months of often tedious research in the National Archives in Washington D.C. where military records for each and every enlisted man are found. Lamarre used Record Group 94: the Adjutant General's Office, Civil War (Union) Compiled Military Service Records. "The researcher who wants to consult the personal file of a soldier must fill out, for each one, a form on which he indicates the name of the soldier and his regiment." (p.26)* Using such a laborious process Lamarre gathered a sample of 1320 Union soldiers of French-Canadian origin, of whom 1142 were born in French-Canada and 178 in the US. He concludes that they represent about 10% of the total French-Canadian participation in the Union Army.


In addition to the challenge of submitting the necessary forms one by one to establish this sample, was the challenge of recognizing French surnames from approximate homonymic spellings in English. The recruits often could not spell their own names. More than 90% of these men could not sign their contracts and simply made a cross at the bottom of the page (p. 53). Check Mr. Lamarre's appendix for the name Duquette and you will get a quick lesson in the challenges he faced. Remember, he had to order each record individually by name.


Once accessed, the record shows the soldier's age at enlistment, his home, his place of enrollment, date of enrollment, and assigned regiment. The appendix which lists this information for the entire sample of 1320 French-Canadian Union soldiers will certainly be useful to anyone doing a family history. Thirty regiments from Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are represented. Additionally, the record might note injury, hospitalization, discharge at the end of his contract, re-enlistment, or status as a prisoner of war. Lamarre has re-created the stories of many individual soldiers and tells them with great care within the body of the text.


The first wave of (over-)confidence and patriotism that brought volunteers to the Northern Army swept many French-Canadians with it. An early victory was expected. Some joined for adventure, some for patriotism, some to combat slavery and some for the security of food, shelter, and a small salary. Those French-Canadians already living in the US were often pressured to show their allegiance to their new country by enlisting. In some communities there was violence against immigrants.


The situation at the border echoes the years of the Revolution. Just as Loyalists headed north to avoid the Revolutionary War, many, many French-Canadians returned to Canada alongside Americans seeking shelter from the conflict.


Lamarre notes that seasonal employment in both logging and farming, from New England to Michigan, had become a way of life for many French-Canadians. Some were motivated to enlist to protect these very personal economic interests. They reasoned that if the South won the war, they could lose these jobs.


That very line of reasoning reveals a lack of employment opportunities in French-Canada. Between 12,000 and 20,000 French-Canadians enrolled in the Union Army and Lamarre states that "it is above all the financial advantages accompanying enlistment that attracted the French-Canadians"(p. 49). At first, the "assurance of a monthly salary of $13" seemed "preferable to the idleness and poverty that awaited them on returning home" p. (48). As this most deadly of all American conflicts dragged on, with tens of thousands of Union soldiers dying in battle after battle, and few enlistments to replace them, Congress voted signing bonuses as part of the Militia Act of 1862. French-Canadian enlistments went up again. In 1863 a draft was established and "enlistment became even more profitable". (p. 49)


Lamarre brings out three very important aspects of recruitment and enlistment that were new to me. One, under the draft it was legally possible to pay a substitute to enlist in your place. 14% of the French-Canadians who enrolled, did so as substitutes (p. 58) Two, recruiters for the Union Army operated in French-Canada openly before the British enforced the Foreign Enlistment Act (which forbade British subjects from fighting in foreign wars), and clandestinely as 'job recruiters' even after Britain's declaration of neutrality. Three, the payment of Bounties to new recruits after 1862 led to a pattern of desertion and 'bounty jumping'. 


Enlisting as a Substitute was dazzlingly attractive. "The sums paid varied between $100 and $300 in 1863 but they later reached $600 and even $1000. These amounts represented the equivalent of one to two year's wages in Eastern Canada, a regular small fortune" (p.59).


The British and their colonies north of the border were understandably nervous at the assembly of large armies in the States. Among their fears was possible invasion by a victorious Northern Army. It was thought that the army would be used to pick off territory or whole colonies and annex them to the US. Among the results was the British North American Act of 1867. Huge territories recently opened by the ending of the charter of the Hudson Bay Company in 1860 were indeed causing comment and machinations in the US. Eastern and Western Canada (French and English) pulled together and became a confederation and a country rather than a collection of colonies. Many other factors led to confederation, but the American Civil War had its influence.


With Bounties at amazing levels, the fraud that was called Bounty Jumping is no surprise. Despite the risk of court martial and possible execution, some individuals signed up in several different regiments and collected several bounties, deserting each time, or simply not reporting for duty. Amazing as it seems, the recruits were paid their Bounty and then given time to put their affairs in order at home before reporting for duty. How much temptation does a poor man need? The number who reported honorably for duty is all the more impressive.


The individual stories that Jean Lamarre has reconstructed for this fascinating account of Civil War experiences are a great treasure. Alongside the important facts related to French-Canadian Union Army soldiers as a whole, each individual story humanizes and verifies those facts.


With illegal immigration ever before us as a 2008 campaign issue, with a fence going up between the US and Mexico, consider just this one fact: 25% of the Union Army were immigrants. At that time, if you were here and you were not born here, you were an immigrant. Simple as that. At the end of the war Union soldiers were granted a free homestead of 180 acres in remote places like Minnesota and Dakota Territory. It solved two problems at once: what to do with thousands of men seeking work, and how to populate a continent.


*All translations are mine, mew.


Note: This book is not yet available in English translation, but the valuable appendix is easily accessible with a minimal knowledge of French. An earlier work by Professor Lamarre, The French Canadians of Michigan: Their Contribution to the Development of the Saginaw Valley and the Keweenaw Peninsula, 1840-1914 is available in English from Wayne State University Press.


* * * * * * *


3) New York Times article

            re 1608 & 1776 submitted by Marie-Reine Mikesell



Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2008 11:15 PM


Subject: L'HISTOIRE - II


Dick :

I just realized that the text on the INTERNET does not have the titles which are in the NY Times. So I added them, which will make the text easier to read.





Published in the New York Times : July 3, 2008



by David Hackett Fischer


THIS week, we the people of North America are staging two celebrations. The Fourth of July is the 232nd birthday of the United States, and it will be observed as John Adams prescribed in 1776: a "day of deliverance" in more ways than one, with "solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty ... pomp and parade ... shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."


In Canada, today, another ceremony will mark the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, the first permanent settlement in New France. The ancient city has organized a party that John Adams could not have imagined, with months of festivities, fireworks and performances. And this morning, at precisely 11, the hour when Samuel de Champlain and company were thought to have landed at Quebec, bells will peal across Canada, from Newfoundland to Vancouver.


These "great anniversary festivals," as Adams called them, are about many things. They commemorate the founding of new societies and the formation of cultures that flourish today. But they also celebrate ideas, which are the true touchstones of our way of life, more than any material foundation. Richard Hofstadter wrote of the United States that "it has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one." He seemed to think it was a form of "American exceptionalism," ugly words for an erroneous thought. Not so. The same might be said in a different way of Canada and Quebec. In each place, ideas grew from dreams of "prevoyant" people, to borrow Champlain's word.


In the United States, July 4 is about a great idea in the Declaration of Independence — its vision of liberty and freedom, equality and self-government. The Continental Congress gave Thomas Jefferson a difficult task: frame a vision of liberty and freedom that all could accept.


Most Americans believed passionately in liberty and freedom, but they understood those ideas in very different ways. Town-born New Englanders had an idea of ordered freedom and the rights of belonging. Virginia's cavaliers thought of hierarchical liberty as a form of rank. Gentleman freeholders had much of it, servants little, and slaves nearly none.


Quakers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey believed in a reciprocal liberty of conscience in the spirit of the golden rule. African slaves thought of liberty as emancipation. Settlers in the Southern backcountry understood it as a sovereign individual's right to be free from taxes and government, and to settle things his own way: Don't tread on me!


In 1776, Jefferson's job was to bring together these Americans who were united by their passion for liberty and freedom, but divided by their understanding of those ideas. With much help from Adams and Benjamin Franklin, he created a new vision of these principles with many contrived ambiguities, studied evasions and deliberate omissions on contested questions. Slavery was not condemned and equality was not defined, nor could they be without disrupting the common cause in 1776. And yet Jefferson's soaring vision gave these ideas room to grow, and that great process became the central theme of American history.





What we might remember today is that Quebec City and Canada grew from another great idea, different from that of the United States, but just as expansive and important, and it too will challenge us for a thousand years.


The idea was Champlain's, the central figure in New France for three decades, from 1603 to 1635. He had a dream that grew from his experiences in France. As a child in the small seaport of Brouage, he had become accustomed to diversity. As a youth in the province of Saintonge, he lived on the border between different cultures and religions, and moved easily between them.


Born in 1567, he came of age in a time of cruel and bitter conflict. From 1562 to 1629, France suffered through nine civil wars of religion; two million to four million people died — out of a population of 19 million. Champlain was a soldier in these wars. He became a devout Catholic who deeply believed in a universal church that was open to all humanity, and supported Henri IV's policy of religious toleration for Protestants.


He served the king as a soldier and secret agent, working for peace and tolerance in France. He also moved in a circle of French humanists who lived for faith and reason, science and truth. In a troubled time, they kept the vital impulse of humanism alive. These forgotten men inherited the Renaissance and inspired the Enlightenment.


With the king's encouragement Champlain and other like-minded men turned their thoughts to the new world. Champlain traveled through the Spanish Empire, and was shocked by the treatment of Indians. He made a written report to the king with his own vivid paintings of Indians burned alive by the Inquisition, beaten by priests for not attending Mass and exploited as forced laborers. With others in his circle, Champlain planned a New France that would be different from New Spain. On his first visit to North America in 1603, he went unarmed with one French friend and two Indian interpreters into the middle of a huge encampment of Indians from many nations — Montagnais, Algonquin, Etchemin — near the mouth of the Saguenay River.


He approached the Indians with respect, joined with them in a long tabagie (tobacco feast) and made an informal alliance that endured for many generations. The same thing happened in 1604, when he made peace with the Penobscot Indians of Maine at a tabagie in what is now downtown Bangor. It happened again with the Micmac of Acadia in 1605 and the Huron and many Algonquin nations after 1608.


All this happened while Champlain was instrumental in founding three French-speaking cultures in North America — Quebecois, Acadian and Metis. These Frenchmen did not try to conquer the Indians and compel them to work, as in New Spain. They did not abuse them as in Virginia, or drive them away as in New England. In the region that began to be known as Canada, small colonies of Frenchmen and large Indian nations lived close to one another in a spirit of amity and concord. This successful partnership was made possible in large measure because of Champlain's dream of humanity.


Certainly, Champlain's founding ideas — like Jefferson's — were constrained. Jefferson's vision of liberty could not solve the problem of slavery, or do justice to the Indians. Champlain's vision of humanity embraced the Indians but not his servants. Still, their founding principles define our lives today. As the celebrations begin in Canada and the United States, the people of North America are heirs to two great ideas: Jefferson's — and Champlain's.



David Hackett Fischer, who teaches history at Brandeis University, is the author of "Washington's Crossing" and the forthcoming "Champlain's Dream."

* * * * * * *


4) Recent French language origin reference work

       (Grand Merci to Marie-Reine Mikesell for pointing it out)


D'ou vient l'accent des Quebecois? Et celui des Parisiens? Essai sur l'origine des accents. Contribution a l'histoire de la prononciation du francais moderne.


    Auteur: Jean-Denis Gendron

    Collection: Langue francaise en Amerique du Nord

    312 pages  2007

    ISBN: 978-2-7637-8615-5


    Presses de l'Universite Laval:



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