Whether it was by sheer coincidence or inspiration, I don't think then premier Joey Smallwood knew what he had done, or at least caused. In 1973, the government of Newfoundland (Labrador was not yet part of the official name of the province) asked the people of the province through its elected officials, meaning its Members of the House of Assembly, to develop and adopt special projects that would commemorate the 25th anniversary of the province joining the Confederation with Canada of 1949.
Mike Martin was sitting as the MHA for the district of Labrador South. In my view he was a man ahead of his time. He took this as an opportunity to do something that would have significant impact and would allow the Labrador people to celebrate Labrador's rich heritage and culture.
The region of Labrador at the time was going through many changes, people were starting to speak up and organize themselves on many levels. Mike Martin understood this. He saw the importance of bringing the people together as one through images and art, thus the creation of the Labrador flag.
Although very young at the time, I can remember my parents talking at the kitchen table as they were actively involved during this era. The Labrador people were starting to organize themselves on many fronts and were becoming publicly and politically active.
We saw the emergence of organizations such as Them Days, the Labrador Friendship Center, the Labrador Inuit Association, the Labrador Metis Nation, the Combined Council of Labrador and I am sure there are many more.
But one thing remained common among the people (not sure if we even really knew at the time) and these groups: the connection to the land and how it related to our overall identity as a people.
On March 31, 2014 we celebrated 40 years of the creation of the Labrador flag. CBC Labrador Morning had done a magnificent job in promoting this and interviewing Mike and Patricia Martin. We learned that in December of 1973, while on a Christmas vacation to his home of Cartwright, that Mike as well as a group of Labrador enthusiasts came up with what we have now as the Labrador flag. Patricia Martin sewed the first 68 flags that were eventually distributed to all the communities.
The Labrador flag continues to be an influential symbol of both young and old in Labrador. It can be seen flown all over Canada by people from Labrador or by people who have called Labrador home, even if was only for a short time.
Many students who attend university are proud to fly the flag in their dormitory rooms and showcase our flag.
The top white bar represents the snow, the bottom blue bar represents the waters and the center green bar depicts the land. The twig is in two years growth which personifies the past and the future, while the three branches embodies the three distinct cultures of Labrador - the Innu, the Inuit and the Metis (sometimes referred to as settlers).
To many in Labrador, the flag stirs up such pride and respect that cannot be really described or measured. It is what connects us as a people. We may have our differences from time to time, from region to region, but when we are away from home and you see that Labrador flag flying, I can guarantee you that all we think about is Labrador as a whole.
Its colours, its symbols and its meaning is who we are.
Congratulations to Mike Martin for having the foresight and vision to create such a monumental image and capturing the true essence of the Labrador people. You, our "Labrador Son," are to be commended and forever acknowledged for this great work.
The Labrador flag's rights and patent is now the ownership of the Labrador Heritage Society, which to this day is a strong organization and continues to promote the flag as an emblem of unity and solidarity.
Just as many Newfoundlanders feel a distinct difference with the rest of Canada, so do the people of Labrador. I believe the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should make the Labrador flag an official flag and fly it at all government buildings.
- Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org