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Theresa Wells Headshot

Fort McMurray Newsflash- Culturally Diverse but Zero Igloos

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I love visitors to my region. I really do, because I love the chance to show them around and let them in on some amazing things going on here. I like talking to them about my community and our strengths and our weaknesses, our triumphs and our challenges. I really love visitors to my region, but there is one thing I get a little bit weary of because they all seem to comment on it, and it just seems so absurd. The comment that drives me bonkers? It's this one: "Oh, hey, you are so culturally diverse here!"

Now, on the face of it that comment shouldn't bug me, right? I mean cultural diversity is a good thing, so it's a positive comment, right? Right, except what they mean and don't say is that the comment roughly translated means: "Oh, hey, lookit that, you AREN'T just a bunch of white people up here!" and that sentiment leaves me thinking "well, why the hell did you think we were?"

Ever watch one of those shows that make fun of Americans and what they think of Canadians? I mean, ha ha, they think we all live in igloos, or ha ha, they think we all drive snowmobiles in July. Except I find I am not doing much ha-ha-ing when I realize that my fellow Canadians - and Albertans - know so little about my region. I find myself saying not "ha ha" but rather "what the hell?"

Yes, Fort McMurray is very culturally diverse, as it should be, and for the betterment of us all. School gyms around this region are lined with the flags from all the countries of origin of their students, and often there are 60 different flags or more. At our local coffee shop you can hear so many languages spoken, Tagalog and English, Mandarin and French, and dozens more. The point isn't that we are culturally diverse but that we are a community in Canada of more than 100,000 people so why WOULDN'T we be diverse? Why would anyone assume we aren't?

Look, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that probably every Canadian over a certain age has heard of the oil sands. A good number would even know where the oil sands are located, up here in northern Alberta. A few more would know the name "Fort McMurray". What I am beginning to wonder about, though, is how many of them actually have any clue that we don't live in igloos and drive snowmobiles in July? How many of them have some crazy ideas about who we are and how we live and our demographic and why exactly do they think this stuff when if they gave it even a moment of thought they'd realize we are, quite likely, a whole lot like them and their community?

Like I said I love visitors, I really do. But the next time one comes and says "oh, wow, you are so culturally diverse!" in that surprised and ever-so-slightly condescending kind of way I might just glare at them and say "And hey look, we have a grocery store, and there's a mailbox, and oh my God, is that a school?!? Now get over it and move on, would you? And stop looking for the damn igloos, too."