Escarmouche a Restigouche: A Defiant Song

Last semester I taught a narrative and management course as a first-year seminar at Victoria College at U. of T. – a subject for a future blog. In one class I showed two movies about First Nations, one of which was Alanis Obomsawin’s 1984 NFB documentary Incident at Restigouche. The film deals with 1981 raids by the Sûreté du Quebec on the Listugui Mi’gmaq First Nation intended to restrict their traditional salmon fishing.

Brutality and Defiance

The film combines brutality – truncheon-wielding police arresting the Mi’gmaq – and defiance, especially Obomsawin’s confrontational interview with former Quebec Fisheries Minister Lucian Lessard, the politician who ordered the raid. The film’s soundtrack incorporates excerpts from a song that is not translated. With a little bit of research, I discovered that the song is “Escarmouche [Skirmish] a Restigouche,” written not long after these events by the renowned Quebecois lyricist Luc Plomondon and sung by the renowned Acadian folk-singer Edith Butler. The song is available on YouTube, but there is no translation available online.

I showed it in class, providing an approximate translation of the lyrics. I was hoping that among my talented students would be one who had taken French immersion and would translate it effortlessly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

After the semester was over, slowing the video down to 75 percent of its original speed, I undertook my own translation. I understood about two-thirds of the lyrics. Then I turned to my friend and colleague Patrice Dutil, Professor of Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, who completed the translation. I am deeply appreciative of this kindness.

Chef Metallic and Monsieur le Ministre

The song’s narrator is Chief Metallic of the Mi’gmaq Reserve, speaking to Minister Lessard. Metallic asserts the First Nation’s prior claim to the land and its willingness to fight for it. But the song is also realistic about the imbalance of power between the Mi’gmaq, on the one hand, and the police and their clients – American tourists and polluting factories – on the other.

The music is upbeat, and in addition to Butler’s earthy voice, includes Mi’gmaq drumming and chorus. It’s catchy, almost an earworm.

I encourage you to take 3 minutes to listen to the song and, as a public service, here are the French lyrics and an English translation.

 Escarmouche à Restigouche

Verse 1

« Monsieur le ministre pour les touristes,

A dit le chef Métallic,

Faut pas nous prendre pour des moustiques,

Sur nos rivières comme sur nos terres,

Ça s’adonne qu’on est chez nous

Parce qu’on était là avant vous. »

Chorus A

Escarmouche à Restigouche,

La police a ses matraques,

Qu’est-ce que dit le chef Micmac ?

“Go back.”

Chorus B1

Escarmouche à Restigouche,

La grosse presse a ses kodaks,

On déterre les tomahawks

“Pull back.”

Verse 2

Pour nous empêcher de pécher,

Faudrait nous mettre en prison,

Ce serait pas bon pour l’opinion.

Vous venez nous voler nos filets,

Un coup parti essayez-donc

Nous mettre dedans comme des poissons.

Chorus A

Chorus B2

Escarmouche à Restigouche

Vous faites mieux checker vos claques

Avant de traverser la track,

“Whoa back.”

Verse 3

Monsieur le ministre pour les touristes

Vous voulez garder nos saumons,

Pour vos amis « Americans »,

Si vous souhaiter nous faire sauter,

Demandez donc une bombe, ou deux, ou trois

Au grand patron, Mister Reagan.

Chorus A

Chorus B3

Escarmouche à Restigouche,

Quand l’homme blanc passe à l’attaque,

On répond du tac-au-tac :

“Go back.”

Verse 4

Avec vos usines de toxines

Nos poissons meurent de pollution

Nous autres avec, de toute façon.

Si vous voulez avoir la paix

Laissez-nous manger notre saumons.

On sera plus là, ce ne sera pas long.

Chorus A

Chorus B4

Escarmouche à Restigouche,

Micmac qui portent des pack-sacs

et conduire vos Cadillacs.

“Go back.”

Verse 1

Chorus A

Chorus B1

English translation

Skirmish at Restigouche

Verse 1

Mister minister, for the tourists,

Said Chief Metallic,

“Don’t take us for mosquitos,

On our rivers as on our lands,

It is a given that we’re at home,

Because we were here before you.”

Chorus A

Skirmish at Restigouche,

The police has its truncheons,

What did Chief Metallic say?

“Go back.”

Chorus B1

Skirmish at Restigouche,

The press brought its cameras,

We unearthed the tomahawks,

“Pull back.”

Verse 2

To prevent us from fishing,

You’d have to put us in prison,

That wouldn’t be good for public opinion,

You come to steal our nets,

Might as well put us in prison.

Chorus A

Chorus B2

Skirmish at Restigouche,

You’d better check your boots

Before crossing the track,

“Whoa back.”

Verse 3

Mister minister, for the tourists,

You want to keep our salmon,

For your American friends,

If you want to blow us up

Ask for a bomb, or two, or three

From your boss, Mr. Reagan.

Chorus A

Chorus B3

Skirmish at Restigouche,

When white men attack,

We respond instantly:

“Go back.”

Verse 4

With your toxin factories,

Our fish die of pollution,

We’re dying too, either way.

If you want peace

Let us eat our salmon

We won’t be here much longer.

Chorus A

Chorus B4

Skirmish at Restigouche,

Micmacs have their back packs,

And drive your Cadillacs,

“Go back.”

Verse 1

Chorus A

Chorus B1

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