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Article Published December 19, 2001
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
Are Acadian graves in Louisiana at risk?
Some say yes, others say hogwash
According to some, the bones of Acadian exiles interred in Louisiana are being desecrated to save a few dollars.
According to at least one anonymous source, the controversy brewing in Saint Martinville, Louisiana, of Longfellow-Evangeline fame, is just so much hogwash.
You be the judge.
André Courville, a Louisiana Cajun related to the Acadians expelled from here in 1755, writes to say that part of St. Michael's Cemetery in Saint Martinville which held some of the original ancestors from Acadia has already been paved over for a parking lot.
And, he says, many more old Acadian graves are in danger of extinction.
'We, as guardians of our ancestors tombs and genealogists, historians, hope to put an end to this destruction. The remains, history and genealogy of these tombs desperately need to be preserved for future generations to come,' says a letter from a committee calling itself Rest in Peace, co-signed by Courville and Annette Eschete.
Anxious to follow up on this alarming letter, I tried without success to contact officials at St. Michael’s in Saint Martinville.
If what this committee claims is true, this story is urgent and important to the Acadians of the Maritimes.
I alerted some fellow Maritime journalists, in the hopes that one of us could get to the bottom of this story.
James Foster a newspaper reporter in Moncton, N.B. had only slightly more luck getting comment from St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, caretakers of St. Michael’s, than I did.
A woman answering the parish telephone, disinclined to co-operate and who would neither give her name nor provide any other contacts, told Foster that the kerfuffle raised by Courville and Eschete is just a 'big stink.'
Foster did, however, get in touch with Eric Martin, mayor of Saint Martinville, located , south and west of Baton Rouge, who confirms that the controversy is the subject of much talk in his town.
Apparently, a church law allows the reclamation of old graves providing a 25-year effort is made to locate descendants and attempt to have them claim the graves of their ancestors and contribute financially toward their upkeep.
It is reported that each grave site requires a $25 per year donation or $800 for perpetual care.
In 1976, according to Foster’s recent story, the Roman Catholic church began advertising in newspapers, searching for survivors of those buried in abandoned cemeteries and asking them to come forward.
Few have been found.
'As the families died off or moved away, there was no one left around to maintain those gave sites,' Martin said.
He added the ideal solution would be for either the relatives of the dead to pay for the upkeep for the sites, or for the public to chip in to defray the costs, perhaps through campaigns like Courville’s and Eschete’s.
Eschete believes many Acadian descendants should be interested. 'This is a practice that goes on almost everywhere in Louisiana, and we feel it’s time to stop this,' she says.
The letter which originally reached my mail box and grabbed my attention implores: 'Please join us in helping to stop this blatant destruction of our past. Our ancestors where evicted from Acadia in 1755 and found a loving home in Louisiana. Now their remains are being evicted. Will this ever stop! '
I pondered for several weeks over whether to write about this, for fear that the alarm could be a scam, at worst; a tempest in a teapot, at least.
Our present-day capabilitiy of phenomenal global communications, after all, can be used or misused to efficiently spread both urgent and bogus news. One must always be wary and vigilant.
However, as the Saint Martinville mayor’s comments now appear to lend at least a hint of validity and credibility to the story, I decided the issue deserves to be passed on and judged on its merits.
I urge anyone reading this and feeling a compunction to act, to employ the wise adage 'caveat emptor' ... first investigate the claims thoroughly through your own personal sources in Louisiana, long before committing either moral support or financial resources to this cause.
The campaign has hit the Internet in an effort to drum up interest. An on-line petition is gathering names at http://www.geocities.com/restinpeace_stmartinville/
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