Staying true to ourselves

Lana
Lana Payne
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Sixty years is not such a long time in the scheme of things.

Indeed, joining Canada, for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, is a "living memory" as was expressed by the commission on our place in Canada in its 2003 report.

Our feelings as a people towards Canada are as diverse and conflicting as the landscape of this place.

Sixty years is not such a long time in the scheme of things.

Indeed, joining Canada, for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, is a "living memory" as was expressed by the commission on our place in Canada in its 2003 report.

Our feelings as a people towards Canada are as diverse and conflicting as the landscape of this place.

In the past six decades, we have been misunderstood, maligned, stereotyped, praised, and envied.

Inevitably, when we think of how Canada sees us, it is through a mainland media or political lens which has not always been that favourable.

But we must not allow those who know so little about us - those who are quick to typecast, those who feel threatened by our sense of community, or those who mistake our solidarity for acquiescence - to define us.

As the commission pointed out: "It remains to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, at home and abroad, to ensure that all Canadians know our rich history, rejoice in our uniqueness, and understand our challenges. Only in this way will we feel that Canada is made complete by our presence, and that in Canada we have truly found a place of respect and dignity."

We are a people of great heart, incredible hospitality and passion. We embody those values held by so many Canadians; that of caring and sharing in times of great sadness and need and in times of joy.

Yes, we are also stubborn or resilient - depending on your point of view.

We did not lose our culture or identity, as some thought might happen, when we joined Canada. Indeed, if anything, we have, through music and art, through story and verse, through great and ordinary acts, through pain and hardship, maintained our sense of place and self.

We did so even through the closure of the cod fisheries.

That's not to say we have not been battered and bruised over the past 60 years.

When the great northern cod fishery was halted, then-FFAW/CAW president Richard Cashin passionately and eloquently explained the significance of the shutdown of Canada's oldest industry to our identity as a people and what was at stake. "This is about saving our souls, and saving this place," he said.

That period will be remembered as a dark time, a time when we lost a generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to other parts of Canada, a time when the landscape of our province was redrawn.

It was also a time of hope as people fought to stay in their communities and for a place in an industry that today still sustains dozens and dozens of coastal communities and a way of life that are integral to who we are.

It would have been easy to give up.

It is these things - spirit, hope, resilience, heart, caring for each other, and above all our collective sense of sharing and responsibility - that ensured our survival on this wind-swept land.

And perhaps it these things - these characteristics that define us - that so confound those who trump individualism. And because they do not understand it, they attack it.

And here I think of those mainland newspaper columnists, and some federal politicians, in particular Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They just don't get us.

In the case of Mr. Harper, it's as if our province embodies everything he holds in disdain.

We don't tell people to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. We help them to do so. We are a people who say what we mean with passion and emotion. He avoids both. We believe in government and the good it can do. He does not. We believe we are all in this together.

Consider Sept. 11, 2001 and how the people of our province came to the aid of thousands of stranded airline passengers.

Consider the past two weeks as our province grieved, collectively mourned and offered comfort to the families of the workers who lost their lives when the Cougar helicopter crashed into the North Atlantic. It was an incredible demonstration of caring and sharing. It was an example of just how connected we are to each other. It was quite simply an expression of who we are.

Those who feared we would lose our soul by joining Canada need not to have done so. Indeed, Canada is a much richer place, more complete, with us as part of the federation.

Perhaps joining Canada made us more aware of just how important it was to hang on to the things that really matter.

At least, I'd like to think so.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns April 11.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, North Atlantic

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