Words of Hope and Anger for First Nations Culture and the Environment

Legacy Part 21 – Geraldine Trimble – First Nations Matriarch In Training

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Text By Blake Butterfield – Co-Editor-in-Chief and Head Correspondent


Never Considered Canadians

Geraldine Trimble is a First Nations artist and Matriarch-In-Training with Haida and Tlingit ancestry based in Prince Rupert, BC with a university background in criminology, social work and in the health services field. She describes herself as a, “peaceful warrior that, as I get older, is turning into more of a hostile warrior.” When it comes to the impact of the arrival of Europeans felt by Aboriginal peoples, she feels her people are lucky to be here on the Northwest Coast.

“This is not yesterday…this is within my age, I wasn’t allowed into the Post Office.”

“When you look at colonization, we were the last to be impacted.” The reasons vary, she goes on to point out, because the region is hardly easily accessible: “The roads were waterways and canoes were vehicles,” and once you get to shore, it is not flat land, it is rough, rocky structure in all directions. Then there’s the winter to content with. What the colonizing oppressors could not accomplish, population-wise, smallpox and other diseases nearly finished. Estimates vary, but in general are in agreement that at least 90% of Haida people were wiped out.

Still, Trimble says, “We’ve been able to preserve a lot in the face of so much Canadian legislation. She points out, matter-of-factly, that it used to be against the law to speak the Haida  language; to speak about lands or land claims; or even to enter any government establishment. As a young girl, she says, “This is not yesterday…this is within my age, I wasn’t allowed into the Post Office.” She says they used to have to get letters to leave the reserve and were watched continuously.

“We were never considered Canadian citizens.”

A Portrait of Perseverance

Trimble tells us in no uncertain terms that First Nations people were wards of the state. It was, in fact, just 58 years ago last month that they became eligible to vote in federal elections in Canada without first giving up their treaty status. She says that still today, right now, legislation gives the RCMP the right to take over any First Nations band government if they don’t think its administration is operating properly. “Why is [this racist legislation] still there?” she asks.

Geraldine Trimble, on her boat, Rushbrook Marina, Prince Rupert.

Geraldine Trimble, on her boat, Rushbrook Marina, Prince Rupert.

Trimble says that if the rest of the world realized that First Nations is Canada’s, “dark, black secret,” our country would not be looked at the same way.

About First Nations people, she goes on to say, “We are survivors of an unsuccessful genocide. We were meant to be wiped out.” She believes they are still regarded by the federal government as, “The Indian Problem.” Interestingly, she points out that Thomas Edison’s first uses for the film he invented, was to record the Indigenous peoples of North America, believing they would soon be completely wiped out by murder, smallpox and other, “layers and layers of indirect and direct genocide.”

Trimble believes the average Canadian thinks Aboriginal people are well taken care of in Canada. She says they would be shocked to find that a great many of their villages lack access to proper drinking water. Whatever else she believes, she acknowledges that First Nations can never get back to what is considered the “Utopian way of life,” due to issues like pollution, the greenhouse effect and the effects of the push to eliminate their entire culture, which has resulted in a dip in their knowledge of the traditional ways of taking care of themselves.

Canada’s Very Own Heart of Darkness

Trimble says that if the rest of the world realized that First Nations is Canada’s, “dark, black secret,” our country would not be looked at the same way. In the face of this, she still sees now as a great time for her culture to wake up again and to “ground our future.” And she see this happening now that they are allowed to speak their language again and to practice their culture. She says their medicine and culture are finally coming back to life. She attributes this to the fact that, through everything, they still kept their, “heartbeat…which is our drums. And it comes through our spirituality and being close to everything that is Mother Earth.” With all the constant conflicts from around the world she says we are constantly being fed, now is the perfect time for the reawakening of First Nations culture.

She has basically given up on the Government of Canada keeping any promise to the First Nations people.

She told us that her people have had to dramatically change the way they think about their lands and waters in the past 50-60 years; that it has had to change, “because of the way our oppressors think about it. We have to deal with it and change our mind-thoughts.” She says that no longer can the Haida people keep thinking about the land as everyone’s, as something to take care of as it is borrowed from their future grandchildren. No longer can they live under the adage that if we take care of Mother Earth, she will in turn take care of us.

“No!” she says emphatically. “It gets bought and sold right underneath of us, constantly.”

Marginal Targets

She was asked for her point of view from the First Nations perspective: Why is it that non-native fishermen, at least some of them, think that First Nations have been given all the rights and that they are taking everything and that the non-native fishermen’s rights are being pushed out of the picture and their livelihood is in jeopardy?

“That’s Canada for you. That’s Canadian propaganda, again. If you take all of First Nations and put us all together, you count up the fishermen; there’s hardly any fishermen, first and foremost. It just goes to show you what misinformation can do to a person.” She brings up the salmon farms and their diseases and a group called the Native Brotherhood, which she wishes still existed, but she isn’t sure if they do. [Editor’s note: They do. Founded in 1931 in BC, the Native Brotherhood fights for aboriginal rights in fishing, hunting and forestry. But they have had little, if any, luck fighting salmon farms.] She brings up the environment and the ubiquity of microplastics and that, as resources become ever more scarce, big businesses are continually obliterating our environment. And now, she says, in regards to these fishermen complaining about the rights of First Nations, they, “…are going to pick on the littlest, most marginalized person first. And who is more marginalized than any on water? It’s First Nations. They have the last rights. They are the fewest. So why not pick on them first? Then, the pecking order will go up.”

Words of a Warrior

She has very harsh words towards Reconciliation Canada, calling the First Nations persons that are in the federal government right now, “completely whitewashed,” and completely towing the company line. She has basically given up on the Government of Canada keeping any promise to the First Nations people. She then challenges it to keep any promise to the environment, as she states that Canada is not even doing that. If the government can’t keep promises to the average Canadian, its children and the environment, she wonders, how anyone could believe they would take care of First Nations people? Especially while they still have legislation right there on the books to oppress them.

When asked about the legal land rights claim the Haida people have in action right now, all she can say is, “Well, let’s see what happens.” The only way she will change her self-described pessimistic-but-realist view is if they win that claim and can wholeheartedly and outright claim the whole of Haida Gwaii. But in reality, she sees no reason for optimism.

"Are we all gonna die, flop over, if we leave the ocean alone for ten years? Let’s just see what happens."

What Trimble says they need is an all-out, full-on revolution. But she says they just don’t have the numbers due the vastness of Canada keeping them from gathering en masse. Instead, what she sees is First Nations culture becoming like the Easter Islands. Completely wiped of its original inhabitants and culture.

She was asked, if she could wave a magic wand right now and have the past disappear and the future look rosy for all on all fronts, with everyone’s identities and rights intact and with economic prosperity and a flourishing environment: What does that take?

“To wipe out all humans,” she replied laughingly, but serious at the same time. Aside from that, she says, in regards to her guiding principles when discussing the future with First Nations people, she says they need infrastructure around food security and safe drinking water for First Nations bands. They need to do a lot more planting in general, and planting of gardens in particular, to help them become more self-sufficient, self-sustained, healthy and less polluting. She says we need to move out of making money out of [the] water. She asks, “Are we all gonna die, flop over, if we leave the ocean alone for ten years? Let’s just see what happens. We need to fucking stop. All of us as humans.” She then puts forward what she says is the spiritual part, the notion that we are committing a crime when we take more than what we need.

If that is true, then we are all criminals. And that’s exactly what she wants to teach.