This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with two filmmakers from Los Angeles. They were here in pursuit of a film project about the oilsands, of course, as well as LA's addiction to oil, and how these tie together when we are having a dialogue about creating a sustainable future for all of us, from Fort McMurray to LA and all points around the globe. It was a fascinating experience, and I was genuinely impressed with them, despite some initial reservations about what they might be up to. I would not say I am cynical about visiting filmmakers and journalists, but I always reserve judgement until I meet them, work with them, and finally see the end product. I felt pretty good about these two, and I found one of the comments one of them often used as a catchphrase really resonated with me.
When Andy Cobb spoke about Los Angeles he spoke of it with the same kind of affection I speak with about Fort McMurray. He would often exclaim things like: "I will tell this story to my people!", making it sound like the people of LA are his tribe. And after the last couple of weeks I found this statement particularly relevant for me, because more than ever I feel like I have found my tribe. I have found "my people" with the residents of Fort McMurray.
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, The good people of this region took on Canada Post, a behemoth Crown Corporation, and David slew Goliath when Canada Post backed down on the matter of a little hidden $5 surcharge they hoped to quietly slap onto parcels being shipped into us. The collective voice we raised was impressive indeed, with enough ferocity that even Canada Post, not exactly known for speedy delivery in this region, rapidly changed course when it became clear this surcharge was becoming a debacle. And I was so impressed by how people responded, from Twitter to Facebook to an online petition to emails and phone calls to the Minister in charge of that Crown Corporation.
I thought we had accomplished something quite incredible, you see. But our triumph over Canada Post was nothing compared to what followed when I was humbled to find residents on Twitter and Facebook sharing beautiful photos of our region using a hashtag I had created. That little hashtag, designed to be a bit provocative and edgy, went far beyond our community, though, and spread throughout the country, taking with it a new narrative of Fort McMurray. It was a grassroots, community-driven effort to show another perspective of the home we love - and it worked.
Suddenly those in our country who had only seen images of oilsands sites were seeing another aspect of life here - boreal forest. wildlife, rivers, lakes, northern lights, and us spending time in the outdoors with our families. We were writing our own story with every photo we shared, showing the nation that while yes, oilsands sites are a reality, so too is our community and our natural beauty in northern Alberta.
The hashtag eventually took on political overtones as it was co-opted by others, as these things often do, but the goal was achieved, and with astonishing success. Our photos were being seen in Quebec and BC, Nova Scotia and Ontario. We stood up and said "We are more than oilsands sites. We are more than big trucks and tailings ponds."
There were those who thought this irrelevant, but to me anyone who wants to engage in true dialogue about the oilsands industry must engage with this community, too. We should not be separate from the dialogue but part of it, and the only way to achieve dialogue is to have some sort of understanding of each other. As long as the dialogue excluded our community, or believed our community was synonymous with the industry, we could not engage in any meaningful dialogue. But this week, with photo upon photo upon photo, with engaged and active citizens, we showed that we are a community.
And so when the filmmaker and comedian I spent time with this weekend would refer to "my people" I thought about the people of Fort McMurray, and how they have become my tribe - my people. I thought about all the relationships I have here, and how our lives interconnect and intertwine, and how we work together to accomplish great things. And while we were posting photos we were also doing things like supporting the Sub-Zero Challenge from the Centre of Hope, a fundraiser that saw people sleeping outdoors for a night this past weekend as they challenged the elements, and themselves. We were working on developing things like A Treat for the Homeless, a grassroots community effort that began as an attempt to show one homeless man some kindness and escalated as people came on board, culminating in a lunch on February 8 for our local homeless population, as well as donations of clothing and other items for those in need.
And this is what makes us a tribe, you see. This is what makes me proud to call you "my people". I know that we get together for causes large and small, and that we use our pride in the place where we work, live and play to inspire us to make it a better place for others while also advocating for our community.
I am always proud to be from Fort McMurray. Today I sit here and am simply proud to steal a phrase from a visiting LA comedian and say: "These are my people. Aren't they amazing?"
Because you are.