By Valérie Vézina
The pride that Newfoundlanders feel for their province and culture is evident in songs such as the “Anti-Confederate Song” and “The Islander.” According to Statistics Canada, 65 per cent of the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are likely to have a strong sense of belonging to their province.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians consider themselves the “other distinct society” of Canada. This pride certainly needs to be celebrated. The long-separate political history of Newfoundland and Labrador should be on offer as an integral part of the education system. The province’s shared narrative of resilience is often deployed against colonialist forces that threaten the unique culture here.
This need to belong to a group, to a nation, is linked to the idea of maintaining social and psychological integrity and is a common feature of all nations.
Nevertheless, issues of nationalism and national identity in a small polity like Newfoundland and Labrador can sometimes lead to the rejection of “others” (those who are called mainlanders, or CFAs, an acronym for “come from aways”).
Nevertheless, issues of nationalism and national identity in a small polity like Newfoundland and Labrador can sometimes lead to the rejection of “others” (those who are called mainlanders, or CFAs, an acronym for “come from aways”). How do we make those who “come from away” feel as though they belong? How can we assure the retention of newcomers who often end up just passing through?
First and foremost, as the Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening Our Place in Canada stipulated almost 15 years ago, the province needs to find its place within the Confederation. Newfoundland and Labrador has mostly counted on powerful and “greater than nature” premiers to position the province within the nation. For example, under the Williams government, Newfoundland became known for being a fighting province. However, the previous Progressive Conservative administration was not the only administration to indulge in instances of Ottawa-bashing. Smallwood, Peckford, Wells and others have also come out swinging against the federal government.
Ottawa-bashing takes the form of a special kind of political nationalism that has fostered a sense of place for the province within the national framework by emphasizing Newfoundland and Labrador’s unique economic, environmental and societal conditions. This emphasis might also create the appearance of an unintentional isolationist attitude. Such forms of nationalism may be difficult to sustain in the long run and may hinder the ability to retain newcomers (mainlanders or migrants) who would be reminded daily that they are “not from here.”
In order for the province to grow and be economically and culturally diverse and sustainable, it must be inclusive. It is important that CFAs feel part of the polity. Hence, part of the solution is to rethink the narrative of Newfoundland identity and resilience in the face of outside social and political influences. Instead of a pugilistic, top-down approach, where premiers are perceived as leading the way forward in direct opposition to the rest of the country, a bottom-up approach is required: a new approach that allows for citizens to take an active part in the national conversation as well as actively engaging with newcomers within the province.
The province should actively facilitate the integration of “others” through public forums and inclusive cultural events where Newfoundlanders and CFAs can share their respective histories through storytelling, in online and in-person visits to The Rooms (the provincial archives, museum and gallery), and in the education curriculum at all levels.
Local traditions of Newfoundlanders and newcomers can also be shared, for example, by pairing a Newfoundland family with a recent migrant family. Those encounters could foster a sense of uniqueness (through Jiggs’ dinner, or perhaps a curry) while also being an opportunity to bond people together by sharing their experiences. Civic engagement could be fostered in public forums, where questions such as the following would be discussed: how do you imagine the Newfoundland and Labrador of the future? What would it take for you to settle for good in this place?
Cultural festivals might provide opportunities for sharing such things as culinary and musical traditions, dance, literature, film and fine art. Education with an emphasis on the shared experience of the immigration process will help strengthen the links between residents of the province, no matter where they were originally from. The province has built itself through immigration and a back-and-forth process; it is important to be proud of the past (and the resilience of settlers and Indigenous groups) and to make links with the resilience of new Canadians as well as mainlanders who arrive with the hope building a new life with new opportunities and ideas.
Through sharing experiences, the “other” can become an integral part of Newfoundland and Labrador and the sense of belonging and national identity will only be stronger.
About the Author
Valérie Vézina (Political Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland) is a visiting assistant professor who has studied nationalism in island settings. Her main focus has been Newfoundland where she has published in journals and edited books. She is currently working on a book entitled “Un île, une nation?” to be published by the Presses de l’Université du Québec.