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The Labrador and Newfoundland naming fiasco (part 3)

in Featured/View From The Mainland by

I, much like my fellow columnist Bruce Bourque (here and here), have never liked the phrase “I am a Newfoundlander and Labradorian”. I especially never liked the a(nac)ronym NLer. What’s that? Newfoundland and Labrador-er? Essentially we’re just throwing in the “and Labrador” for good measure, or political correctness. When in fact we’re just annoying everyone.

There are so few people out there that can claim they are both a Newfoundlander AND a Labradorian. I know some of you that are, and I think that’s pretty cool. But seriously, why should we feel like we are alienating Newfoundlanders when we proudly call ourselves just Labradorians? And vice versa? B’ys I know where you’re from when you say you’re a proud Newfoundlander.

Everyone knows that changing the name of the province was a tool to stake claim to Labrador against Quebec over hydro electric development.

Then it was further made federal law as a gesture to say to the separatist Labradorians “yes, we hear you, we love you, don’t go anywhere. Nowhere in the ACT does it say that we have to refer to ourselves in any particular way – just that the province shall be known as Newfoundland and Labrador. I don’t have any fancy graphs, or hard data to show you (I’m sure one of our eager provincial bloggers have already done so) but I’m willing to bet that Danny Williams is the biggest offender of the NLer / Ner&Lian phrase. Or at least he annoyed me the most with it.

Either way it was probably for the same reason – to try and give a sense of inclusiveness

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no specific beef with Labrador and Newfoundland being part of a single, fair and equitable province. But the idea was never (or at least from many Labradorians’ perspectives) to give us all one identity, as this name usage is intended (ie NLer). The idea was to recognise the duality of our province, a la Trinidad and Tobago where the residents refer to themselves as Trinidadian or Tobagans, not as Trinidadian and tobagans.

One’s identity as a Newfoundlander – or Labradorian – is not actually altered by the name change is it? I mean if you grew up in the Codroy Valley you don’t really have a sense of what it’s like being a Labradorian in Wabush, and vice versa. This is a good thing – most other places try to celebrate their diversity, not squish it into the same little box.

Origin of the term Labradorian

I would hazard a guess that there was little input into the “Select Committee” chaired by Danny Dumaresque (as mentioned in Bruce’s column) by Labradorians because there was still some simmering debate about the word Labradorian. You see, originally the term Labradorian referred to only the “half breeds”, or “huskies” living on the coast of Labrador. More often the polite way of referring to those people were the “Labrador men/women” by visiting fishers from the Island.

Over time, other people who came to live in Labrador began calling themselves Labradorians as well. Of particular note was the large, rapid influx of settlers in Labrador west iron mines and in Churchill Falls. This caused some upset to those “livyer” types that felt they were the “true Labradorians”.

I would suggest that this is not a productive way of expressing our personal identity.

I, for one, am comfortable enough with my usage of Labradorian (and what it means ethnically) to wholeheartedly support those who actually choose to live in Labrador and call themselves Labradorians. Or you can be a Newfoundlander who lives here, just as a Newfoundlander proudly says as much when they are in Fort McMurray.

This comes full circle to my original point. What is the problem with being proud of being from where you’re from, without having to water that down by adding the “Newfoundland(er) and” or without adding the “and Labrador(ian)” and not really mean it?

Proper and improper name usages:

X I am a Newfoundlander and Labradorian (unless you’re Brian Tobin-esque)
√ I am from Newfoundland and Labrador (or NL)

X I am a NLer
√ I am a Newfoundlander OR I am a Labradorian

X I live in central NL etc (North West River is the geographic centre)
√ I live in Central NF

I recognize there are still problems for those who want to be inclusive of the people when talking about the whole of the province

Such is the case for our poor premiers who have to get up and say “as a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian …(fill in the statement)”. I can only suggest one of two things. The first is to avoid the use of the personal pronoun and use “As proud Newfoundlanders and Labradorians we…(fill the statement)”.

The alternative would be more grammatically correct, yet still less palatable “As a Newfoundland and Labradorian”. This takes the name of the province, and adds an –ian at the end to denote the citizenry of said province. This is because adding the -er after Newfoundlander suggests that you are both a Labradorian and a Newfoundlander, which the vast majority of us are not.

I seek not to create divisions on this topic, but to call out false inclusiveness.

Let me ask you this, how would you feel if we started saying ‘Labradorians and Newfoundlanders’? It is an equally valid way of referring to the people of the province – especially considering Labrador is 3 times the size of the island. To accentuate my point, the picture for this article is of Elizabeth Penashue with the same words in Innu-Eimun as Joey Smallwood in Bruce Bourque’s column. Though for many of you it conjures up completely different meanings. There’s a lot to be said for the way in which we say them.

Further, adding “Newfoundlander and” or “and Labradorian” when you know you’re not represented in that title is not inclusive. By adding those extra words you purport to represent the other side of our provincial duality without knowing if in fact you share the same views.

For example Daniel Williams once said “We had to get the Canadians’ attention about the deep history of Newfoundland and Labrador, how we’ve been wronged and slighted by the federal government,” when explaining why he removed the Canadian flag on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. When, in fact, Labradorians are so proud of being Canadian because of all that Canada does for us, that we went out in December 2004 and raised the flags that were taken down in reverse protest.

Don’t worry, I suspect the masses aren’t going to rise up on either side of the name change fiasco. I don’t think if we go back to exclusively referring to ourselves as Newfoundlanders or as Labradorians that one part of the province is going to feel more alienated and separate. That would happen regardless of the name of the province.

Unless/until Newfoundland leaves Canada, this will be one province and its name will still be Newfoundland and Labrador. But when one says they are from Charlottetown, Newfoundland at least you know which town it is.

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