A leaked voice mail has revealed comments by cabinet minister Perry Trimper that lawyers working for the Innu Nation call “racist” and “dehumanizing.”
The Innu Nation posted a five-minute audio file of a voice mail left by Trimper on Thursday. The message is normal at first, but it soon becomes evident Trimper thought he had hung up the phone, when he continued a conversation with an unnamed person in which Trimper accuses the Innu Nation of playing “the race card.”
“They certainly don’t think the same way we do. They have a feeling of entitlement,” says a woman speaking with Trimper, heard on the call.
“Yeah, and the race card comes up all the time. Man, don’t play that on me. I’ve been 32 years working with you guys, don’t play that on me,” Trimper said in response.
Trimper declined to identify the woman he was speaking to, only to say she is a friend not affiliated with the provincial government.
“Yeah, and the race card comes up all the time. Man, don’t play that on me. I’ve been 32 years working with you guys, don’t play that on me." — Perry Trimper on voice mail
Earlier in the conversation, Trimper says it’s not a “God-given right” to provide government services to those who require a translator.
Maggie Wente, a lawyer with the Innu Nation who is Indigenous, says accusing the Innu Nation of playing the “race card” is a way of dismissing their concerns.
“To diminish it is incredibly racist because it’s dehumanizing what their concerns are. To say they feel entitled to things, well, you know what’s entitled to me?” said Wente.
“It’s entitled to go into someone else’s territory, to purport to govern it in a language that is not the language of the people who own that territory and who have aboriginal titles to that territory, and then to require them to jump through all kinds of hoops in a language that’s not their own and then not supply them with services to access them. That’s entitled.”
Trimper made the phone call to follow up on a request by the Innu Nation for the government to supply a translator to allow Indigenous people to take a driver’s test and get a licence.
Dominic Rich, an adviser to Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Etienne Rich, had previously been accompanying members of the Innu Nation to take the test, but was unable to continue to provide the service.
Emails provided to The Telegram detailing the request explain why the translation services are needed.
“For some time there had been no issue with an individual (in most cases Dominic Rich) providing interpretive services during the test. However, last year problems arose and while there has been no actual reason provided, it appeared that one of the issues was a lack of trust as to whether the interpreter/translator was perhaps assisting the applicant,” Donna Paddon, communications consultant with the Innu Nation, wrote in an email to Trimper dated Aug. 29.
“This of course is most concerning to the Innu Nation as people need interpretation that is not being provided by the province.”
On Thursday, Trimper left the voice mail.
In a telephone interview with The Telegram, Trimper said there is no explanation for his words.
“I apologize to the Innu of Labrador that I’ve worked with for many, many years, and of course to all of the constituents in Lake Melville,” said Trimper.
“I was in an animated conversation and I drifted away from the Perry Trimper that I work hard at presenting and being. There’s really no explanation of it than to say I’m really disappointed in myself. I’ve worked hard with the Innu. I consider them my friends. Whether this was recorded or not, the words are inappropriate.”
"I’ve worked hard with the Innu. I consider them my friends. Whether this was recorded or not, the words are inappropriate.” — Trimper
Trimper provided his reasoning for the "race card" comment.
"The comment about the race card that I think has people very upset is that what I was saying is that with 32 years experience working in and with and around the Innu, I’ve had people challenge me that I’m somehow racist," he said.
"My point is, please don’t do that to me. I’ve committed so much of my life to working with these people, these individuals, and if anything, please don’t suggest that I’m racist if I can’t solve your problem."
Trimper says he has spoken with Premier Dwight Ball, who is also Minister of Labrador and Indigenous Affairs, and apologized.
In a statement, the Premier’s Office says Ball has also apologized to the Innu Nation.
“The premier spoke to Grand Chief Rich and apologized for what had happened. In no way do Minister Trimper’s comments reflect the views of Premier Ball, or that of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Government values the relationship with the Innu Nation and holds the Innu Nation in the highest respect,” reads the statement.
“During the conversation, the premier offered to meet with Grand Chief Rich at his earliest convenience. Grand Chief Rich committed to getting back to Premier Ball to discuss this further. The premier is waiting on confirmation from the Innu Nation.”
Trimper could not say on Thursday whether he will resign his position.