Louisiana Accepted as Observing Member of the International Organization of the Francophonie

Baton Rouge, La — Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that the International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF) has accepted the state of Louisiana as an observing member to the organization, following a unanimous vote of approval during its biennial conference in Yerevan, Armenia.

"Louisiana's formal observer status within the IOF comes as a result of the great passion, dedication and commitment of Louisiana citizens to their French Cajun and Creole language, culture and history," said Gov. Edwards. "Our rich and colorful French Cajun and Creole heritage makes our state truly unique. This new status will open up new opportunities that will lead to a more robust cultural economy and provide even greater resources and networks to continue preserving the language and the culture."

The IOF is a global organization that brings together 88 states and governments with a shared interest in the French language and international cooperation in the fields of culture, education, commerce, and politics. Louisiana is uniquely positioned to benefit from membership in the IOF, with an estimated 250,000 French speakers and deep historical, cultural, and educational ties to the language.

The mission of the IOF is to embody the active solidarity between its 88 member states and governments, which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 900 million people, including 300 million French speakers. To accomplish this mission, the IOF works with the five following operating agencies:

- Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF): The Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie) is composed of members of 78 governing bodies from francophone countries and supports intergovernmental cooperation on the IOF’s mission.

- Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF): The Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (Association of Francophone Universities) represents nearly 800 institutions of higher learning in 100 countries and is the IOF’s agent for secondary education and research.

- TV5MONDE: TV5MONDE is an international television network consisting of 10 channels distributed in nearly 200 counties and territories and is the IOF’s principal media partner.

- Association internationale des maires francophones: The Association internationale des maires francophones (International Association of Francophone Mayors) is a network of local-level elected officials from 265 cities and local governments in 49 countries.

- Université Senghor d’Alexandrie: The Université Senghor d’Alexandrie (Senghor University of Alexandria) is a center for education and exchange and a primary tool for African development.

By joining the IOF as an observing member, Louisiana is officially recognized on an international level as a French-speaking area. The state will also gain access to opportunities for communication, collaboration, and development with fellow members of the IOF. “Membership in the IOF creates an official presence for Louisiana in the Francophone economic sphere,” says CODOFIL Board President Dr. William Arceneaux. “This offers a persuasive argument for attracting investors: ‘Come and do business in Louisiana - our state has privileged access to over 80 countries across the world."

In addition to a significant French-speaking population, Louisiana has in place the following initiatives and relationships that represent significant opportunities to work with the IOF and its members:

- The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), under the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, is the state’s official agency for the French language and celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018.

- Nearly 5,000 students are enrolled in French immersion programs coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Education in 32 schools across 11 parishes.

- Universities in France, Canada, Belgium, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the Antilles maintain exchanges, accords, or memorandums of understanding with numerous Louisiana universities and colleges, including Louisiana State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Centenary College, Xavier University, and the University of New Orleans.

- Relationships with businesses based in French-speaking areas (TV5, CGI, Airgas, Total, French-American Chamber of Commerce).

“Louisiana’s acceptance into the IOF is historic. This approval makes Louisiana the first and only US observer member in the IOF. The IOF vote is formal recognition of Louisiana as a member of the larger francophone community and a validation of the work of the new CODOFIL over the last 20 years in fulling its mission in maintaining Louisiana's unique Creole and Cajun community," said Senator Eric LaFleur, a native of Ville Platte, and the former president of the Louisiana section of the French speaking legislative group, Assemblée parlementaire de la francophonie.

French-speaking legislators and officials from Louisiana have been in contact with the IOF and have attended its biennial summit as guests several times since 1997. The inquiry on whether Louisiana could have a more “formal” role in the OIF, began in 2008 after a Louisiana delegation led by Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Senator Eric LaFleur attended the OIF summit in Quebec. The following year in 2009, Lt. Gov. Landrieu, working with the Consul General of France to New Orleans, arranged for a meeting with the President of the IOF, Abdou Diouf (the former President of Senegal) and IOF staff, at IOF headquarters in Paris, France. At that meeting, Landrieu and LaFleur pressed Louisiana's case to have a more official status within the IOF. In 2010 and 2012, Louisiana was invited and accepted invitations to attend IOF summits in Montreux, Switzerland and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. At these subsequent summits, the Louisiana delegation met again with President Abdou Diouf to discuss Louisiana's interest in obtaining a more formal status but most importantly the process by which that could be achieved.

The North American section of l'Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), consisting of almost all of the provinces of Canada, Louisiana and Haiti, passed a resolution at its formal meeting in 2016 supporting Louisiana’s efforts and encouraging the OIF to help facilitate an “observateur” status for Louisiana and to provide an exception any rules that would prohibit Louisiana from being given a formal observateur status. In April of 2018, CODOFIL efforts for Louisiana to officially become a member materialized thanks to the work of a committee of about a dozen people and partners in government at the state and federal levels, as well as support of Louisiana’s wider French-speaking population.

With the encouragement and support of Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of the Acadiana legislative delegation, CODOFIL completed the application process, which included an 80-page report that inventoried all things French in the following spheres: linguistics, politics, pedagogy, culture, communication, economy, promotion of Francophonie and international commitments. The application report committee was led by Editor-in-chief Michael Debled, along with Peggy Feehan; Nicole Boudreaux, EdD; Michelle Haj-Broussard, PhD; Michele Braud; and Joseph Dunn. Researchers and editors included Warren Perrin, David Cheramie, Philippe Gustin, Christophe Pilut, and Jennifer Rodriguez. Scott Tilton, a New Orleans native living in Paris, coordinated with partners in France and the United States. Senator John Kennedy provided direction at the Federal level to facilitate the application process.

Membership in the IOF represents a particularly bright future for young people in Louisiana. According to Brock Miller, a student in Lafayette High School’s French immersion program, “La francophonie est importante parce qu’elle ouvre des opportunités en l’éducation et sur le marché du travail.” (“The Francophonie is important because it gives me opportunities for education and in the workforce.”)

Kirsi Michael, another Lafayette High School student, highlights the importance of validating the French language in Louisiana. “La francophonie est importante parce que ça fait une partie de qui je suis. C’est une partie de ma famille et ma culture.” (“French is important because it’s a part of who I am. It is part of my family and my culture.”)

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