A Franco-American Leadership Council has been formed to promote the importance of the Franco culture to the state’s future, as well as memorialize the contributions of the past. 

Although Maine’s first French settlers arrived in 1604 with explorer Samuel de Champlain, the 400 years of Franco history here is often called a “quiet presence.” Franco-Americans today comprise one third of Maine’s population, but have not always been recognized for their considerable contributions to the economy, the workforce, cultural or religious institutions.

In addition, U.S. Census data show that communities with large Franco-American populations are not experiencing the same educational success as other communities.

A Franco-American Task Force was appointed by Maine’s Legislature last year to explore economic and educational disparities and promote awareness of Franco culture in Maine. That work is now being picked up by the Franco-American Leadership Council, a newly created nonprofit group. The council met for the first time on March 28 in the Governor’s Cabinet Room at the State House in Augusta. 

All members of the original Franco-American Task Force were invited to join the council, along with additional legislators and people who participate in supporting Maine’s Franco-American culture. Co-chairs are House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and John Martin, a former long-time Democratic lawmaker from Eagle Lake.

Goals of the council are to create awareness about Maine’s long Franco-American history and the French culture at every organizational level within government, in community programs, educational and religious institutions.  “It’s about time Franco-Americans are recognized for our leadership in the Roman Catholic Church and in our state’s social and educational institutions,” said Martin.

Work of the council will support research and scholarship to demonstrate Franco American accomplishments in Maine’s economy, politics, religious institutions and history within the state as well as the surrounding regions.

Fredette introduced legislation, LD 558, to resolve to erect a monument to Franco-Americans. If passed by the legislature, the resolve directs the Capitol Planning Commission to raise and maintain a monument to Maine’s men and women of Franco-American heritage. It also allows the commission to accept gifts and private contributions to assist in achieving this goal.

A site for the memorial is proposed on the grounds in Augusta’s Capitol Park.

Fredette asked the council to reach out to artists and the culture community for creative ideas about how to expand the Franco-American experience through artistic murals and sculpture to be featured throughout Maine. “We want to encourage creative ideas about how to promote Franco-American history, language and culture,” he says.

Work authorized by the council will be governed by a private non-profit corporation, says Fredette.  Although the Task Force was appointed by the 125th Legislature, the newly formed council will be a corporation that’s independent of government.  As such, one of the first tasks is to engage in fundraising activities to support cultural recognition projects.  A fundraising dinner in the fall of 2013 is proposed. 

The University of Maine Franco-American Centre supports an educational online Franco-American Virtual Resource, available at the http://tinyurl.com/cqcpyoj

Additionally, the work of the Task Force that lead to the creation of the Leadership Council is now published in the University of Maine Franco-American Centre Occasional Papers Spring 2013, titled “Contemporary Attitudes of Maine’s Franco-Americans”.

NOTE: Juliana L’Heureux is a member of the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.