Bangor Daily News
By Diana Graettinger
Monday, June 28, 2004

Rain-soaked attendees celebrate anniversary

The pageantry was spectacular, the speeches long and the rain unrelenting as 2,500 people marked the 400th anniversary of the French settlement of St. Croix Island.

In ceremonies Saturday at Bayside, New Brunswick, just across the St. Croix River from Maine, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin paid tribute to the European settlers who came to the New World in 1604.

"A small group of soldiers, settlers and craftsmen landed on this spot. Confronted with a rugged environment, but filled with dreams of adventure, riches of a better life, they wrote an illustrious chapter in the history of our continent," Martin said.

Nearly 80 men sailed from France in 1604 to establish a colony in the New World. They selected St. Croix Island, not far from modern-day Calais, Maine, and established a settlement. A harsh early winter forced the settlers to abandon the island. They moved to Port Royal, Nova Scotia, where they founded a permanent settlement.

"We remember that the first French to come here were welcomed by the Passamaquoddy Indians, and we want to say that we still share a friendship," said Xavier Darcos, the French representative.

The abandoned settlement became known as Bone Island in the 1700s when erosion exposed the remains of many of the buried settlers. Last year, archaeologists and anthropologists reburied the bones of 23 settlers that were removed in 1969.

This year's events have been keyed to a revival of interest in the island and sites on both sides of the border, including the new Downeast Heritage Center in nearby Calais.

Campaigning hard to keep his job, Martin arrived more than an hour late. Federal elections are under way today in Canada.

Although Martin welcomed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, she was a no-show. No one said why.

Speaking on behalf of President Bush, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci cited Canada - "our friends to the north."

"We have the most important relationship, I believe, in the world," Cellucci said, "In trade, in security, in peace and promoting prosperity, not only here in North America, but for all of our hemisphere and throughout the world."

Although the majority of the speakers Saturday talked about the 400th anniversary of the French settlement, it was New Brunswick Passamaquoddy Chief Hugh Akagi who set the tone.

Akagi looked larger than life as cameras broadcast his image and those of others on two big screens on either side of a stage set up for the ceremony. He talked about how his ancestors offered a welcoming hand to the newcomers and how that welcome changed the lives of his people. "My people acted nobly in accepting other cultures into their territory. This deserves respect," he said.

Still, he said he had mixed feelings when he was invited to participate in the anniversary events.

"Yes, if you have need to celebrate the survival of one winter in our territory, then we have great need to celebrate our existence here for the past thousands of years," he said, to applause.

Akagi noted that government rights have taken precedence over his people's rights.

For the past 10 years, the nearly 300 Passamaquoddy living in and around New Brunswick have sought recognition as a band. The Canadian government, however, has refused to recognize them.

At one point the tribe laid claim to much of southeastern New Brunswick, including all of St. Andrews.

Akagi said he hoped visitors had heard the tribe's story and would take that story home with them. "When you return to your homes in other parts of the world, other parts of Canada, when you meet with your governments and congresses, how will you speak of my people?" he asked.

"I would hope that you would remember having enjoyed the experience of having met us, shared our culture, and I would hope that you would value us not as an object to be discarded like some piece of legislation, but protected forever and a day through the recognition we so richly deserve."

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord said the 400th anniversary was an ideal time for the province to celebrate its successes.

"I invite all of New Brunswickers and ... our young people to discover our cultural diversity and our collective heritage," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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