The original meaning of the term Newfoundlander is a reference to the fishing vessels that came to our waters to harvest the ocean1. Afterwards – for centuries – the term was the exclusive label for those who settled the Island.
It was only in the Second World War that the term “Newfie” entered the lexicon – thanks to the denigration of slow rail transport on the Island by American servicemen using the nickname “Newfie Bullet”2.
There remains debate about the pejorative nature of the term Newfie in the modern era, however, it should be made clear that the term originated as an ethnic slur, unlike the terms polack – a term still in use by Poles to this day to refer to themselves3 – or ‘nigger’ – which is a bastardization of various Romance language words for the colour black4.
Now, it is not unusual to hear Mainlanders (those from other areas of Canada) and Come-From-Aways (all others) to refer to Newfoundlanders as ‘goofy newfies’ which does not absolve the American soldiers of blame for originating the term, but certainly spreads the blame for its continued usage around.
In an era where both ‘polack’ and ‘nigger’ are condemned (universally in the case of the latter, only in North America in the former’s), it is disgusting that so many Newfoundlanders accept the derogatory label as expected or merely informal when it originated as a slur.
Due to the relative inconsequentiality of this issue (let’s be honest, Newfoundlanders don’t make up a particularly significant ethnicity on the global level), it is difficult to find documented, academically reliable evidence of the contention on this point, and so I am forced to rely on anecdote – in this case, from my own experience – to make my point.
In the early 2010s I worked on renovation projects with a man from my father’s generation – those who would have been born in the Baby Boom era immediately post-World War 2 and immediately pre-Confederation with Canada – and his opinion stuck in my mind. When – during a break in work – I used the term Newfie to refer to myself, he interrupted conversation to upbraid me about denigrating myself: “Newfie is what you call a dog” he said in serious manner, “You call a man a Newfoundlander.” Non-plussed, I was forced to concede the point.
In fact, in researching this piece, I repeatedly found supposedly academically-reliable sources listing the term as ‘sometimes’ derogatory or even ‘informal’ while relating the term Newfie to it as if synonymous. Of all the varied sources I consulted, only urbandictionary.com placed the usage of the term Newfie as a diminutive form of the canine breed of the Newfoundland DOG in the primary position5. And yet, these same sources consider both nigger and polack to primarily be derogatory.
Of course, even my fellow Newfoundlanders will wonder why I find this issue of any concern at all, let alone enough to author a piece like this railing against it. To them, I say that to prevent your person and people to be denigrated by outsiders who have no understanding of why it is egregious is exactly what the purpose of all those awareness campaigns was supposed to have been for the last three decades. If we continue to allow our unique culture and heritage – our ethnicity – to be dismissed and denigrated (in an era where diversity saturates the zeitgeist) then when it dies out it will have been our fault for allowing it. As we are called on to honour the ethnicities of others, we have a duty to our people to maintain the proud memory of our ancestry. Newfoundlanders survived in a place that defeated the Vikings and yet that indomitable spirit is being strangled out in the name of false, antiwhite diversity which denies the validity of thousands of ethnicities by coalescing them under the umbrella of ‘whiteness’. It is up to us, not the government that we are under, to maintain our culture as we can clearly not expect Ottawa to preserve Newfoundland culture as they work to maintain Quebecois, Métis or Innu cultures.
Even in his discussion with Wade Hemsworth, James Baker himself – an academic and Newfoundlander – conflated (which I will generously call an inaccuracy) provincial and ethnic identities6.
To be clear, both these terms predate Confederation and provincehood. In fact, as I pointed out in the very first sentence of this essay, the term Newfoundlander was extant centuries prior to the pejorative’s origin. It may not trip off the tongue like Newfie, but that linguistic effort is a small price to pay to maintain the pride of a people. Moreover, Newfoundland settlement predates that of all other European settlement of the New World with the exception of Spain’s colonization of the Caribbean7.
I do not believe it is inappropriate to call oneself an ethnic Newfoundlander – potentially, if contentiously, indigenous when one considers the integration of the settlers’ culture with the natural environment they found themselves in.
Identifying as an ethnic Newfoundlander – and NEVER a “Newfie” – should be a point of pride.