Editorial: Island communities demonstrate tolerance in polarizing times

Small rural, and especially Northern communities often get a bad rap when it comes to tolerance and inclusion. Often seen as distinctly white bread in makeup (although the First Nations make up a significant portion of the population in many Northern Ontario ridings—parties take note) it is assumed rural Northern communities are more exclusive in attitude than their more urban (urbane?) southern cousins. But there is plenty of evidence that pushes back against that narrative.

While “redneck” is an appellation often worn with considerable pride by “country folk,” that is most often more of a refutation of the “helplessness” of urban dwellers as perceived by those whose daily existence is only modestly more impacted by the advent of technology and urban lifestyles (witness the howling from the hinterland when there is a Facebook or other social media outage these days). Since people commonly associate redneck with a negative attitude towards others, this translates into a belief that rural folks are more racist and non-inclusive than their urban cousins. In practice nothing could be further from the truth.

Manitoulin residents recently pulled beyond their weight in welcoming refugees to our shores, bringing in far more of the desperate of the world than many larger nearby communities. Those refugees quickly became valued employees at local businesses and their employers, to a one, lamented when they departed for more lucrative climes. Each is still working hard and moving ahead as new Canadians in Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto and, by all accounts, their new employers are as pleased with them as their Island counterparts were. 

 This August our Island will be celebrating its third edition of Pride Manitoulin, celebrating freedom from the oppression of the past too often experienced by members of the LGBTQ2S community.

The success of Pride Manitoulin is indeed something that we can all take pride in. This coming August will see the third edition of the Pride Manitoulin celebration take place across Manitoulin. That is not to say that we, like most other communities across our nation, do not still have a long way to go. But we are getting there.

Perhaps it is the tradition of self reliance that underscores the shared rural experience that plays a part in the openness of rural communities. Often seen as insular and suspicious of outsiders, rural communities are also renown for coming together to help those in need. Incredible amounts of money are routinely raised for community projects, such as a new roof on a local church or carpeting for the local home for the aged. We pull together.

As we look toward what appears to be a growing polarization and xenophobia in communities to the south, federal authorities are looking to tap into immigration and resettlement of refugees to help combat our dwindling work force numbers—and that will be a great benefit to all of us as we assist our new neighbours in fitting into our communities.