New Brunswick

Unique workshop celebrates Acadian and Mi'kmaq heritage

An initiative by two friends aiming to teach the region about their shared history is in high demand in northern New Brunswick.

Two Nations Teachings bridges the gap between past and present-day Acadians and First Nations

An initiative by two friends aiming to teach the region about their shared history is in high demand in northern New Brunswick.

Two Nations Teaching is a workshop focusing on the bond between Acadians and First Nations people in New Brunswick. 

It was created by Raymonde Cormier-Balfour and Colleen Labillois-Gauvin.
Raymonde Cormier-Balfour and Colleen Labillois-Gauvin are best friends and the creators of Two Nations Teachings (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Cormier-Balfour is Acadian and grew up in Shediac before moving to the Restigouche area, while Labillois-Gauvin has spent her life on Eel River Bar First Nation. 

The women have been friends for years, and have a shared love for teaching.

Raymonde Cormier-Balfour was approached by a tourism representative to start a workshop, which sparked an idea.

It comes straight from the heart.- Colleen Labillois-Gauvin, co-creator Two Nations Teachings

"Why don't we work on something positive? You know, show what went well during all these years. I mean, we were friends for almost 150 years, and I mean close friends," she says.

The final workshop of the season will be held on Friday in Charlo, but already cultural and community groups have reserved Two Nations Teachings for dates next summer.

"They [the Acadians] would not be here without us," says Colleen Labillois-Gauvin.

"When the deportation came and all that, we took them into our homes. We fed them, we took care of them, we taught them everything that we knew about our medicines and the woods."

Acadian dancers show their flare at a Two Nations teachings workshop. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
The presentation touches on the Acadian deportation and the loss of  Mi'kmaq culture, but puts greater focus on how the two peoples helped each other and interacted in the past.

Frustrated by the focus on tension between native and non-native people in the past, Labillois-Gauvin and Cormier-Balfour have created a program that traces the trials and tribulations of each group, but focuses on how they helped each other.

The workshops, held throughout the summer months, are based around traditional storytelling. Neither woman uses a script.

They rely on research and their own oral traditions, telling stories in French, English, and  Mi'kmaq.

"It's all natural. I have nothing written. It comes straight from the heart," says Labillois-Gauvin.

The affection between the women is obvious as they launch into a story about a young Acadian girl in the 1800s, taken in by the  Mi'kmaq people when she fell ill.

They tried to cure her with traditional medicines, but failed.

When she died, they performed a church service in tribute.

Both women are visibly touched by the story.

"I am very grateful for all that you've done," says Cormier-Balfour to her friend.

"Can I give you a hug for all that you've done? Thank you to you and your ancestors."

The friends are joined by groups of traditional Acadian and First Nations dancers from the Restigouche region, and from the nearby Gaspé region of Quebec.

The workshop is funded by the provincial government and will continue next summer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bridget Yard is a journalist and content creator based in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Schumacher, a small mining community in northern Ontario, she spent a decade pursuing a career in journalism close to home, then in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan with CBC.

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