Task Force on Franco-Americans Convenes
AUGUSTA —  A task force looking to quantify Maine’s Franco-American community and promote and preserve its culture recently met for the first time.

The privately funded task force, led by Franco-American legislator Rep. Kenneth fredette of Newport, met June 19 in Augusta.

“My grandfather came to Maine from Quebec, but our family didn’t really associate ourselves as being Franco-American,” Fredette said.  “I’d like to know how my heritage fits with the thousands of Maine’s Francos.  What does it mean to be a Franco-American? I hope we can start the narrative to tell our children what is meaningful about being a Franco-American.”

Franco-Americans are Maine’s largest minority group. Demographic data from the 1990 and 2000 census documented about 18 percent of Maine’s citizens self identify themselves as Franco-American, reported University of Maine researcher Jacob Albert in his opening presentation to the task force.

The Task Force work will report about Franco-American educational achievements, the group’s income disparities compared to the population at large, their retention of the French language, some particular health care practices and opportunities to promote Maine’s economic development through cultural initiatives. Four meetings are scheduled between June 19, and December 15, 2012, to complete a report to The Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

Recommendations will document ways to support education, and cultural awareness about Maine’s Franco-American heritage and how economic opportunities can be developed through these initiatives.

Christian Potholm, a Bowdoin College Professor in Brunswick, presented a demographic and political overview about his research with Maine’s Franco-Americans.

Franco-Americans are the most important swing vote in the community in any election, he said.

“Your work as a Task Force is of historic importance,” said Potholm.  “If done properly, it can only enhance the power and the reality of the Franco-American community.”

Franco-Americans are often hampered in their ability to leverage economic and political success by the fractured nature of the community, said Potholm. “Franco-American solidarity seldom happens,” he said.

Even in religious influence, Maine’s Roman Catholic Diocese has never had a Franco-American bishop, in spite of the culture’s strong demonstration of faith.

A 1997 Commission also studied Maine’s Franco-Americans. Their report “Ici on Parle Francais” (We speak French Here), recommended cultural and economic development actions.  Nonetheless, little follow up was done to formalize the implementation of the report’s information.

“The 1997 report captured energy and idealism of the Franco-American culture but the potential may not have been tapped,” said Tony Brinkley, from the University of Maine’s (UM) Franco-American Center in Orono.

One Commission recommendation that wasn’t developed was to conduct a study about demographics particular to the Franco-American culture.

“A data collection survey has never been done before,” said Task Force member and former state legislator David Madore of Augusta.

Yvon Labbe, a Task Force member from Greenville and a founder of the UM Franco-American Center, suggested accessing resources available at the Center to support conducting a survey.  Fredette asked Task Force members to each write 10 questions they would like to see included in a potential survey. Funding for a data collection survey will have to be requested from private sources.

A second meeting of the Task Force is scheduled in August, possibly at a Franco-American heritage site in either Lewiston or Fort Kent.

For information or to be included on the Task Force interested parties list contact Karen Nadeau-Drillon, at the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis at 207-287-1670 or [email protected]