Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Words Worth Repeating and Remembering

I love Alberta. Here, I am surrounded by a diverse and rich ecosystem: the Rocky Mountains and snow, the prairies, hills and valleys and crops, the deserts and dinosaurs, the northern forests and lakes, flora and fauna painted overhead by the aurora borealis.

While I love traveling across Canada and around the world, I can honestly say, much to the chagrin of my wonderful Maritime-born husband, that I never want to live anywhere else. I was born approximately two hours southeast of Calgary; I have lived in Alberta my whole life. Generations of my family have worked the land, built and taught in the schools and worked on the oil rigs. One grandmother started a kindergarten in her basement when the town needed one; another grandmother taught elementary school all week and played golf in the scrub on weekends. My great-uncle raised sheep in the southern desert, and another uncle raised cattle and grew grain in the center. Cousins have worked the rigs, uncles have built hundreds of homes and office buildings, and aunts have nursed the sick in Alberta hospitals.

I guess you could say I am "dug in" because my roots are in Alberta. I have lived in or close to Calgary almost as long as the University of Calgary has been a University. I was schooled in Alberta, I went to University in Alberta, I work in Alberta, and I am bringing up my children in Alberta. I will probably die here (my sisters and I have talked about having our ashes spread at the foot of the Three Sisters Mountains near Canmore).

Why the focus on Alberta? Or me, for that matter? Well, it IS my blog... Really, though. I am currently reading Catherine Ford's book, "Against the Grain: An Irreverent View of Alberta". I picked this book up after attending Ford's talk at a conference in Banff. "Against the Grain" captures the spirit and complexities of the hard working settlers who carved homes and livelihoods out of the prairie, the ranchers whose cattle and lifestyle both complemented and competed with the land, and the oil and gas and coal barons who mined the riches beneath the land. On her tour through several cities and towns, Ford explores the complex tensions that characterize Alberta's social, political, economic and cultural heritage and present day life and landscape in the province.

Ford's book about Alberta is a "personal story, filled with the love and hope and anger of any intimate relationship" (p. 11). She describes Alberta as "a complex province, still young and growing, still not sure what it wants to be when it grows up" (p. 11). I love Albertans - while visiting with Eastern relatives or in-laws, it becomes clear that the entrepreneurial, hard-working and optimistic attitude that I associate with my people, which deserves respect, is often met with disdain and a lack of understanding - to some, we Albertans are "uncultured rednecks".

Rather than accepting "redneck" as a pejorative, my definition of a redneck is "a hard working, trustworthy urban or rural person who values freedom of expression and of religion, pays their taxes and distrusts the elites". Rednecks built this country, laid track for the railroad, settled the west, drilled for oil, fished the rivers, lakes and seas, rode the ranches and harvested the grain, and constructed the universities and businesses that are reflected in culturally, politically and socially diverse skylines across this Country. Last time I checked, the freedoms and values lived by Alberta "rednecks" like me are enshrined in the Canadian Charter, but we "péquenot" do not forget that rights are only rights for as long as we are willing to fight for them.

To be sure, there are problems, challenges and inequities in Alberta - these can be found in each province in our great dominion. However, I share Ford's view: "all things being equal, it is easier to work to reform the things about a rich province that are bad, than it is to find enough money to reform a poor province" (p. 10). And, we rednecks like to remind the East, Alberta is RICH.

Ford quotes from people she has encountered along the way, people whose words are worth repeating and remembering. As I add to this review, I will share some of these Ford gems with you. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach inside the "redneck" stereotype to learn more about Alberta here, here, here, here and here.

1 comment:

- brad said...

As a native Albertan I can identify with many of your comments. However, for the sake of argument, let's address the 'redneck'-ness of many/most Albertans. Or rather, let me say that the narrow view of most Albertans who rarely venture past their borders and even more rarely embrace other viewpoints is perhaps the most disappointing thing about my fellow Albertans. To be sure, this is a regional attitude that is shared by most if not all regions in the world. It's not about hard work ... to be sure there are hardworking people throughout the world, most of whom aren't lucky enough to be born in a rich province (don't accept credit for a fluke of birth!) ... it's about an unwillingness to accept other viewpoints. In Alberta there is an additional bit of smugness because we are rich. To help put this in a bit more context, I happen to be working in a part of the world that is oil-rich like Alberta, is very regional in outlook, and is accepting credit for a fluke of birth. The similarities are huge even though the religions are evangelic and islamic respectively.

I do appreciate that being redneck can be cast as a good thing but I do not accept that such a recasting addresses these other issues.