Nor Naiz, Gu Gara: Marc Cormier

Nor Naiz, Gu Gara (Who I Am, We Are) is a series aiming to explore the meaning of Basque Identity around the world, both within Euskal Herria as well as in the diaspora. For an introduction to the series, look here, and for a list of the previous entries, look here. I started this series back in 2010 and am reviving it. If you are interested in contributing, let me know.

I am most grateful to Buber for giving me the opportunity to tell you why I am an Euskadunen Laguna. I was born in one of the few places in the world with an Ikurriña as part of its flag: the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon. 

When I was a small child, my first exposure to the Basque language and culture was our famous Zazpiak Bat fronton right across from my elementary school in St Pierre, which we affectionately called the “Zazpi”. This massive concrete wall, probably the oldest in the New World, was a permanent presence in our lives: it was right at the end of the school yard. Every recess, we’d play near it. After school, the local Basque club would play Pala Ancha or Pelote and every August the Basque festival would bring music, games and joy to our town. 

Although I am not of Basque extraction, save a great-grandmother named Detcheverry, many of my friends’ names were Basque: Daguerre, Delizarraga, Teletchea, Goicoetchea … Our islands have roots in Normandy, Brittany, Ireland and the Basque Country and everybody is a little of each. The Basque language disappeared in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon in the 1950s, yet nobody mourned its extinction; this was just how things were in a French Overseas Territory in the middle of the 20th century. 

After graduating from high school, university studies meant packing my bags for France, a year at a time, and I chose to settle in the southwest city of Bordeaux for four years. Since I chose to study in the capital of Aquitaine, I ended up quite close to the French Basque Country. It was therefore, at the Université de Bordeaux, that I befriended a large contingent of Basque students from Hendaye, Bayonne, Biarritz, Behobie and St Jean de Luz. I spend many holidays in that part of France, often crossing over into Irun and Behobia and learning about the language, complex politics and traditions of the region and its peoples. I am to this day indebted to the people of that region for their hospitality and kindness. Often my friends would joke about making me an honorary Basque: “the paperwork is almost done” they’d say laughingly to anyone who queried. 

Years later, when I moved to Toronto, Canada, I decided to pursue my interest in the history of the islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon only to discover the strong ties between my native islands and the French and Spanish Basque regions, from the 19th century fishing companies to the 16th century establishments that had been described by Martin de Hoyarçabal and Pierre Detcheverry Dorre. Through my research, I was able to demonstrate that the name of Miquelon had, in fact, been given to the great island by the Basques. One must understand that many place names in Newfoundland and the islands were also given by mariners from that country. From Placentia (Plentzia) to Port-aux-Choix (Portuchoa), Burin (Buru) to Barachois, and Lizardie, the Basque toponomy was inescapable. I also owe a great debt to Selma Barkham who introduced me to the works of Hoyarçabal. 

To better understand certain archives and primary sources, I decided to learn some Euskara, only to realize the vast variety of dialects one can encounter in archives and other primary sources. To this day, I remain convinced archives from the Basque Country will yield more information related to the history of my islands and of the great fishing expeditions to the New Found Land. Decades later, the love affair continues and I shall always be an Euskaldunen Laguna. 

Born abroad, with Irish, Scottish, Mi’kmaq and Acadian roots from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Marc Albert Cormier was raised in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon. After four years at Université de Bordeaux in France, he moved to Canada in 1992 and studied at the University of Toronto, obtaining a Bachelors in Education. For 10 years, Marc was a director of a nationwide education system for homework help working with a virtual office staff of 20 professionally trained teachers from across Canada which year-over-year increased usability stats for students desiring to get better grades in school. In September 2018, Marc moved to back to his teaching roots to inspire kids in math and science. For his work as a teacher, principal and project manager in education, Marc was awarded two knighthoods for his groundbreaking work in online education and his passion for maintaining one’s culture.

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