Deux­ième Dé­por­ta­tion

Five decades af­ter Kouch­i­bouguac, Aca­dian artists bring at­ten­tion to an on­go­ing story of ex­pro­pri­a­tion ig­nored by most of Canada

Canadian Art - - Contents - GEN­ER­OUSLY SUP­PORTED BY THE SHEILA HUGH MACKAY FOUN­DA­TION

Aca­dian artists bring at­ten­tion to an on­go­ing story of ex­pro­pri­a­tion by Rémi Bel­liveau

In the pro­logue to his re­cent book, Kouch­i­bouguac: Re­moval, Re­sis­tance and Re­mem­brance at a Cana­dian Na­tional Park, his­to­rian Ron­ald Rudin re­counts his sur­prise that no sig­nif­i­cant work of lit­er­a­ture has ever been pro­duced about the cre­ation of the con­tro­ver­sial park on New Brunswick’s east coast. Dur­ing the mid-1970s, the gov­ern­ment­man­dated re­moval of 260 fam­i­lies from their homes within the park’s bound­aries would prove to be a fo­cal point of re­sis­tance among Aca­di­ans. They saw only too clearly the par­al­lel to the Great Up­heaval of 1755, when their French-speak­ing Aca­dian an­ces­tors were forcibly de­ported from the At­lantic prov­inces by the Bri­tish. Rudin as­cribes the ne­glect by his­to­ri­ans to­ward the Kouch­i­bouguac saga to the fact that Aca­dian is­sues have largely been an­nexed to Que­bec, or sim­ply ig­nored by the rest of Canada. For­tu­nately, the Kouch­i­bouguac story has re­fused to stay silent, for as Rudin high­lights, Aca­dian mu­si­cians, po­ets, nov­el­ists, play­wrights and visual artists have con­stantly en­gaged with the un­fold­ing events, telling and retelling a story that re­mains head­line news in Acadie al­most 50 years later. The first phase of land ex­pro­pri­a­tions be­gan in 1969, with fam­i­lies from two of the seven com­mu­ni­ties sit­u­ated within the fu­ture park leav­ing vol­un­tar­ily in ex­change for pal­try com­pen­sa­tion from the New Brunswick govern­ment. But other com­mu­ni­ties re­sisted and or­ga­nized: in 1972, fish­er­men who would lose ac­cess to the park’s wa­ters staged an oc­cu­pa­tion of the park’s of­fices. Com­ing in the wake of the Univer­sité de Moncton protests of 1968, many young Aca­di­ans took up the Kouch­i­bouguac cause, en­gag­ing with the events ei­ther on the park grounds or from the in­tel­lec­tual van­tage point of the Udem cam­pus.

Pete Goguen (1950–98) was among th­ese young Aca­di­ans. His pho­to­graphic screen­print sans titre (Kouch­i­bouguac) from the 1975 se­ries Acadie Time, printed while he was still a stu­dent at the Udem de­part­ment of fine arts, ap­pro­pri­ates the iconic red frame and ty­pog­ra­phy of Time mag­a­zine in order to posit the events at Kouch­i­bouguac as be­ing of na­tional im­por­tance.

Among the 10 known prints in the se­ries, which ad­dress Aca­dian mat­ters such as the Great Up­heaval of 1755 and the short­lived Parti Aca­dien (a na­tion­al­ist po­lit­i­cal party), sans titre (Kouch­i­bouguac) is the most lit­eral, show­ing a man­gled red door in a pile of de­bris by a Parcs Canada sign. While some res­i­dents at Kouch­i­bouguac took the painstak­ing route of re­lo­cat­ing to lots just out­side of park bound­aries,

The Kouch­i­bouguac story has lived pri­mar­ily through the myth­i­cal fig­ure of Jackie Vau­tour, who re­mains sub­ject to artis­tic treat­ments to this day.

many sim­ply left their houses for de­mo­li­tion, leav­ing be­hind a highly sym­bolic im­age that would be ap­pro­pri­ated by artists from all dis­ci­plines.

Among them, Claude Rous­sel stands out for re­turn­ing to the sub­ject of Kouch­i­bouguac most of­ten dur­ing the first decade of the saga, ad­dress­ing key mo­ments in the con­flict as they made head­line news. This so­cially and po­lit­i­cally in­volved ap­proach to mak­ing art was cen­tral to Rous­sel’s prac­tice at the time of the re­sis­tance, and is best em­bod­ied by his se­ries of resin sculp­tures that com­ment on con­tem­po­rary Aca­dian strug­gles such as the fight for lan­guage equal­ity and the un­em­ploy­ment cri­sis of the early ’70s.

One such work, Kouch­i­bouguac, NB (The Great Up­root­ing), cre­ated in 1975, shows a large lob­ster claw bear­ing a New Brunswick coat of arms and grab­bing at bits of de­bris, which in­clude a doll found at the site of a for­mer res­i­dent’s torn-down house. Its ti­tle is an­other ref­er­ence to the Great Up­heaval—car­ried out as part of the Bri­tish mil­i­tary cam­paign dur­ing the French and In­dian War—also known as the Ex­pul­sion of the Aca­di­ans. Be­fore this anal­ogy be­gan gain­ing ground in the mid-’70s, the dis­cus­sion about the ex­pro­pri­ated fam­i­lies at Kouch­i­bouguac had been cen­tred on poor peo­ple rather than specif­i­cally on Aca­di­ans—but this was about to change.

On Novem­ber 5, 1976, news came out that Kouch­i­bouguac’s most fa­mous squat­ters, Jackie and Yvonne Vau­tour, had lost their home at the maw of a govern­ment bull­dozer. By then, Jackie had be­come a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in the re­sis­tance move­ment, work­ing with var­i­ous groups for the cause of the ex­pro­pri­ated fam­i­lies but of­ten tak­ing mat­ters into his own hands—an ap­proach that would land him in jail in 1973. Al­though he wasn’t uni­ver­sally praised within the com­mu­nity, the de­struc­tion of his home struck a chord with many Aca­di­ans, in­clud­ing Rous­sel, who, in an act of sol­i­dar­ity, met with the re­sis­tance fighter fol­low­ing the de­mo­li­tion to gift him with the afore­men­tioned resin sculp­ture. A black-and-white pho­to­graph taken that day shows a smil­ing Vau­tour hold­ing the work of art out­side of the Mo­tel Habi­tant, where the New Brunswick govern­ment had tem­po­rar­ily placed the fam­ily be­fore force­fully re­mov­ing them again only months later.

When the Vau­tour fam­ily il­le­gally moved back to the park in the late ’70s (where they re­main to­day as squat­ters), acts of sol­i­dar­ity in the form of ben­e­fit con­certs and de­mon­stra­tions be­came the last ma­jor breaths of the com­mu­nal re­sis­tance. The ’80s thus marked a tran­si­tional if not con­clu­sive point in the Kouch­i­bouguac saga, with the re­sis­tance move­ment slowly fad­ing out while Vau­tour was el­e­vated to an Aca­dian folk hero. The at­ten­tion lav­ished on him, how­ever, gave rise to feel­ings that the rest of the ex­pro­pri­ated fam­i­lies had been for­got­ten in his shadow.

This was partly what mo­ti­vated Yolande Des­jardins to cre­ate a se­ries of batik por­traits in 1989 de­pict­ing elderly for­mer res­i­dents of the park. Work­ing from out­takes of the NFB film Kouch­i­bouguac (1978), Des­jardins set out to cre­ate a mo­tor­ized ki­netic sculp­ture that could an­i­mate six silk por­traits into a sin­gle warp­ing im­age. De­spite plans to show the sculp­ture on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, the project was even­tu­ally dropped, leav­ing the artist to com­plete only four por­traits as stand­alone works. Des­jardins’s painterly ap­proach to the batik tech­nique of dye­ing fab­rics cre­ates a crack­led

and weath­ered tex­ture that high­lights the dif­fi­cult strug­gle that each sub­ject has un­der­taken. This is most ap­par­ent in her near life-sized por­trait of Emma Comeau, which show­cases three times as many shades of dye than the other monochro­matic works. Batik’s close ties to the hip­pie gen­er­a­tion and ’60s coun­ter­cul­ture in North Amer­ica res­onates within th­ese po­lit­i­cal por­traits, much like protest ban­ners or po­lit­i­cal flags.

In the decades that fol­lowed, the Kouch­i­bouguac story has lived pri­mar­ily through the myth­i­cal fig­ure of Jackie Vau­tour, who re­mains sub­ject to artis­tic treat­ments to this day. In 1993, his cen­tral role in Zero° Cel­sius’s mil­i­tant an­them Petit­co­diac (Petty Coat Jack) brought his story to a new gen­er­a­tion of Aca­di­ans in an emerg­ing un­der­ground scene that in­cluded visual artist Mario Doucette. Best known for his rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of Aca­dian colo­nial his­tory, Doucette has strayed from this cen­tral sub­ject mat­ter to in­clude prom­i­nent 20th-cen­tury Aca­dian fig­ures such as Louis J. Ro­bichaud, Michel-vi­tal Blan­chard and, of course, Jackie Vau­tour. All three were de­picted in a 2005 screen­print port­fo­lio called les rebels, an homage to Franco­phone mil­i­tants. His por­trait of the re­sis­tance fighter, ti­tled Ra­gin’ Ca­jun (2005), shows a car­toon-styled Vau­tour wear­ing a bull­dozer-branded polo shirt, un­der­play­ing the se­ri­ous per­sona most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the re­sis­tance leader. A float­ing ban­ner bear­ing his name and date of birth makes it clear that the artist is com­mem­o­rat­ing an im­por­tant fig­ure—sub­mit­ting him to the an­nals of his­tory.

In the new mil­len­nium, Kouch­i­bouguac and Jackie Vau­tour have be­come house­hold names in Acadie, where they of­ten re­turn in the form of cer­e­monies, doc­u­men­taries and, once again, head­line news. Fol­low­ing an ac­cu­sa­tion of il­le­gal fish­ing in park wa­ters dat­ing back to 1998, Jackie and Yvonne Vau­tour have re­mained in the me­dia through­out the 2000s as they move back and forth be­tween the pro­vin­cial courts.

In this new bat­tle, the re­sis­tance fight­ers have taken on a new dis­course claim­ing Métis her­itage, a claim that the pro­vin­cial court of ap­peal of­fi­cially re­fused to en­ter­tain in May 2017. As Jackie Vau­tour, now aged 88, pre­pares to bring his cause to the Supreme Court of Canada, Kouch­i­bouguac and its ex­pro­pri­ated fam­i­lies should re­main in our col­lec­tive thoughts as silent vic­tims from an on­go­ing story that Aca­dian artists will no doubt keep de­con­struct­ing for many years to come. ■

Yolande Des­jardins Emma Comeau 1989 Batik on silk fab­ric 101.6 x 77.5 cm PHOTO RÉMI BEL­LIVEAU

ABOVE: Mario Doucette

Ra­gin’ Ca­jun 2005 Screen­print on pa­per 25 x 20 cm

PHOTO RÉMI BEL­LIVEAU

Claude Rous­sel Jackie Vau­tour hold­ing

Kouch­i­bouguac, NB (The Great Up­root­ing) 1976

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