French, Native American history to meet at Ste. Anne Parish

On Sept. 10, Ste. Anne Parish in Detroit will host a cultural festival dedicated to the French settlers and Native Americans who welcomed them in 1701. Coinciding with the event will be a six-week-long exhibit on Detroit missionary, educator and civic pioneer Fr. Gabriel Richard. Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — The French connection to Detroit’s founding and history is well-documented, but for Elizabeth Bourne and others at Ste. Anne Parish, there’s more to the story.

On Sept. 10, Detroit’s first parish will honor the dual heritage of the city’s founding with a cultural festival dedicated to discovering the impact of the French settlers and their relationship with the Native Americans who welcomed them in the early 18th century.

The first “Rendez-vous” event is the brainchild of Bourne, a member of St. Owen Parish in Bloomfield Hills.

“In my family, my French ancestors married Native Americans, and those children and the culture that came from that are known as the Métis people,” said Bourne, using the French word for a person of “mixed blood” — someone whose ancestry includes both French Canadian and Native American lineage.

Bourne knew of French ancestors on her mother’s side who had come with Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to “The Straits” in the early 1700s, but only recently discovered she had kin of Ojibwe descent as well.

“For many French-Canadian people, because we’ve been in Michigan the longest and have been assimilated for so long, a lot of people have lost touch with their heritage,” Bourne said. “I want to honor our ancestors because we all stand on native land. They welcomed us.”

The “Rendez-vous” event will feature cultural demonstrations of both French and Native American heritage, including a performance by the Belletre French Marines, a re-enactment group who will represent — in costume — the 1759 French garrison of Fort Ponchartrain.

The day will begin with a noon Mass at Ste. Anne — parts of which will be celebrated in French — and will include a procession into the church by the soldier re-enactors, who will lay flags at the foot of the altar.

Fr. Gabriel Richard is pictured in this portrait from John G. Shea’s 1888 “A History of the Catholic Church Within the Limits of the United States.”

After Mass, renown French fiddler Marcel Bénéteau will offer a performance of popular French music from the 18th century. Bénéteau’s performance will be followed by Trois Bouffons, a local French-Canadian music trio, and Spirits Rising, a Native American rock and roll group featuring native regalia and dances.

“It’s going to be so awesome,” Bourne said of Bénéteau’s anticipated performance. “He’s researched the music of Detroit of 300 years ago, and he’s going to be playing the greatest hits of the 1700s.”

The afternoon will continue with a presentation by Kay McGowen, a professor of anthropology at Eastern Michigan University, comparing and contrasting French and Native American cultures.

Coinciding with the “Rendez-vous” event will be an exhibit devoted to the life and legacy of Fr. Gabriel Richard, the pioneering Detroit priest whose contributions to the city advanced relations between the French settlers and Native Americans.

The exhibit, which will run from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22, will feature a self-guided tour in the chapel of Ste. Anne, where Fr. Richard is buried, and will include books and letters on loan from the historical library at Central Michigan University to help people learn about Detroit’s “second founder.”

“A lot of people don’t know how much he did for Detroit,” Bourne said of Fr. Richard. “He played such a huge role in the lives of the French in the Detroit community. He was a co-founder of the University of Michigan and a civic leader; all of this is going to be showcased in this exhibit.”

Fr. Richard was well-regarded by Michigan’s native population, many of whom were afforded educational opportunities thanks to his strong belief in protecting their wellbeing, Bourne said.

“Fr. Richard was very sympathetic toward them, and he made arrangements for their schooling and for them to go to the University of Michigan,” she said. “He also protected them from exploitation, particularly in land deals where white people would cheat them.”

Fr. Richard also helped evangelize many Native Americans, facilitating their introduction to the Catholic faith through their marriage to French settlers, Bourne said.

“These couples he was marrying, the women would generally become Catholics,” Bourne said.

Bourne said she hopes the Rendez-vous — the proceeds of which will benefit the restoration and repairs at Ste. Anne — will “create an experience” for people to learn more about their local heritage.

“I think the parish is blown away that we’re doing this, but that’s because we all have this love and affinity for Ste. Anne,” Bourne said. “The French people who are descendants, we have a stake in this place. It’s the last standing landmark of the old French Detroit.”