Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, January 18, 2013

It'll Only Be Good If We Makes It Good - Keyano Global Address in Fort McMurray

Yesterday was one of those days in Fort McMurray, exciting and exhausting and exhilarating all at once. Today I feel a bit like I was hit by a large cast-iron frying pan as I hit the ground running at 5:15 am yesterday and didn't stop until much, much later. There was a press conference, and then another press conference, and then a summit, and then a global address. In my typical quixotic fashion I've decided to mix it up and start recounting my day with the last event of the day, and so today I bring to you the Keyano Global Address, an event that saw Seamus O'Regan of CTV fame, Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, and our own Mayor Melissa Blake share the stage at Keyano Theatre. Why were they there? To discuss image, perception, and pride.

I had just come from a day where I thought about this topic a great deal. The Community Image Summit 3.0 had challenged us to change the dialogue about this region (and that is a topic I will blog about tomorrow). I had attended two press conferences, one showcasing the upcoming winterPLAY from Events Wood Buffalo, and one promoting the summer fundraiser for the Family Crisis Society. As often happens all these events were very fresh in my mind when I took my seat at Keyano Theatre, and so I was quite interested to hear what these three individuals had to say.

Seamus and Alan are both originally from Newfoundland, of course, a place that has had it's share of bad press over the years (from stories about unemployment to overfishing to the seal hunt). They too have had to battle an image problem, a perception of their home that they did not believe truly reflected who they are, and this is a war we continue to fight here in Fort McMurray. Seamus and Alan brought a fresh new perspective to the dialogue, though, because they are coming from a place that has successfully changed the image they once had. They hail from a place which they love and protect, one that they feel very passionately about - and of course there are so many in this region who care passionately about this place, too. There are so many who are staunch defenders of Fort McMurray, who try to spread the message about who we really are.

Seamus and Alan know what all this is like. They have travelled the world in their respective careers, and both commented how strange it feels to be called an "ambassador" for the place they call home. I know too how that is, as often we do not take that name ourselves but find others place it upon us. It is strange to think of yourself as an "ambassador", and yet it is true as each and every one of us who talks about this place to others is an ambassador of sorts.

There were so many things said last night that stuck with me. Alan commented on how when you come from a place with a negative image you aren't starting at zero, but less than zero, and how that just increases the challenges. He and Seamus talked about not apologizing for who you are and what you do (and for us in this region we have the double whammy of the natural Canadian tendency to apologize for everything and the charges levelled against us). The one thing that truly stuck with me, though, was what Alan said his father told him when he was growing up. Parents often have mantras they repeat, things we pick up as children and never let go even when we are adults. For Alan's dad it was "it will only be good if we makes it good" (and that "s" is not accidental as it's the wonderful and charming Newfoundland dialect one comes to know and love here). The meaning is obvious. And the relevance to us, and our life here, is profound.

It will only be good if we makes it good, people. That goes for everything from our personal lives to the industry to the community. Making it good isn't dependent on anyone else - it depends on me, and you. We each need to take the responsibility to make it good. And then, when we know we are doing our best to "makes it good" we stop apologizing, because we know we are doing our best, and that our best is, in fact, pretty damn good. And we decide to just be who we are.

After the talk between Mayor Blake and our guests (and our mayor did a wonderful job representing us, as she always does) there was a brief media scrum. During that scrum I asked this (and was delighted when Seamus called it a great question, which pretty much made this little blogger's entire week): "We live in a place that is subject to intense scrutiny from national and international media. What is the most important thing we can do when we feel the eyes of the world are on us"?

Alan answered and said "Just be yourselves, and don't try to be anything other than that". Seamus agreed, and they both spoke to the importance  of simply being proud of our home, and sharing our passion for it. And I could not agree more, and so this global address resonated deeply with me because I felt like I had spent the evening with some very like-minded individuals.

There were other terrific moments, like the shout-out Alan gave to Saskatoon, the place I grew up in, calling it one of his favourite cities in the country (and if you were at Keyano Theatre it was indeed I who cheered that statement, because I have pride and passion about that little prairie city, too). There were some great laughs (a new motto for the city? "We're not faking it!"). It was a pretty incredible experience, actually, and thoughts from last night continue to resonate with me today as I mull over various thoughts and ideas. 

The evening ended on an amazing note when I had the opportunity to join some folks from Keyano College, some other attendees, Alan, and Seamus for a drink at a local lounge. The opportunity to sit and chat with someone like Seamus was incredible for me, and yet another example of all the slightly unbelievable things that happen to me in this community. It was a chance to share thoughts and ideas and stories, and drop the roles of "ambassador" and simply be people. And it was pretty damn spectacular, too.

There are many times when I am called an ambassador, and I have always found myself a bit uncomfortable with it. I was glad to know I am not alone, and while I find the title a bit squirm-inducing on occasion I am proudly from Fort McMurray, and not sorry to be an ambassador for it should people choose to see me that way. We are, in the end, all ambassadors for this place we call home, and so the stories we share and the things we tell others impact us all, whether they are good ones or bad ones, or simply the truth, the good and the bad all together. I want to thank Keyano College for organizing the Global Address, and I would deem this one of the very best events of this kind I have ever attended as it was both thought-provoking and relevant. And it brought two pretty phenomenal people to our community, and I want to thank Alan Doyle and Seamus O'Regan for coming to visit us and engaging in a little diplomatic ambassadorial exchange. I also want to thank all of you, Fort McMurray. You are the reason I do what I do, and you are the reason I am so proud to call this home. I am proud of all of us, because it will only be good if we makes it good - and I truly believe that is what we are doing every single day in this little place surrounded by boreal forest and under the dancing northern lights. We are making it good to be right here, in Fort McMurray. And that is something we never, ever have to be sorry for.

My deep and sincere thanks to
Keyano College
for the invitation to attend the Global Address
and for all the do for this community,
to Mayor Blake 
for being a mayor of whom I am so proud,
and to 
Seamus O'Regan and Alan Doyle
for coming to visit and sharing their passion and pride with us.

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