Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Founding of the Co-operatives

A record of the founding meeting of the Fogo Island Ship Building and Producer Co-operative(1967).

The Fogo Island Process evolved from a series of events that took place on Fogo Island in 1967. Two years before, Donald Snowden, the then Director of the Extension Department at Memorial University, proposed the idea of producing a series of films to show the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that poverty did not mean economic deprivation, it could also be the result of isolation and the inability to access information and communication through media as well as a lack of communication.

Snowden teamed up with Colin Low, a filmmaker with The National Film Board of Canada, and considered five areas in Newfoundland for potential filming before deciding Fogo Island was the ideal candidate to initiate what is now known as the Fogo Island Process.

In 1967, less than five thousand people lived on Fogo Island, living in ten separate communities. Fogo Island represented the type of isolation and lack of information or organization that Snowden wanted to show as alternate indicators of poverty in the province.

Fogo Island at that time was going through an economic slump. The Island depended on the fishing industry for three hundred years, but the inshore fishery was failing, and sixty percent of families were forced depend on welfare. These circumstances brought about the possibility of resettlement.

Snowden believed that the people of Fogo Island could form a co-operative in an effort to preserve their way of life. Colin Low was introduced to Fred Earl, a Memorial University Extension Worker, and attended a meeting of the newly formed Improvement Committee, a group of members formed from the ten communities across the Island. They introduced the concept of filming on the Island, and identified a number of Island wide issues: the inability to organize, the need for communication, the resentment felt towards the idea of resettlement, and the anger toward the fact that the government seemed to be making decisions about Fogo Island’s future with no community consultation process.

By using the technique of filming, communities as well as government officials were able to see how the people of Fogo Island felt about the issues they faced concerning the fishery. It was clearly identified that the government was making decisions for Fogo Island without community consultation. This became an important part of the Fogo Island Process, as individual communities were united in their concern for their livelihood and for the future of Fogo Island.

As a result of the films, fishermen were given the opportunity to voice their concerns to cabinet ministers and other government officials. Soon, alternatives were made to the original proposal of resettlement, which was initially pushed by Premier Joseph Smallwood.

Today, the Fogo Island Co-operative is prospering. The Fogo Island Process is only one factor in a success story for which most credit must be given to the people. As film producer Colin Low said, the films "intensified" a process already begun. The Fogo Island Process became an internationally acclaimed prototype of using media to promote dialogue and social change and was the model used by various communities in similar economic situations around the world.

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