Sabina Trimble: BC Studies Prize

Sabina Trimble with The'wá:lí community member Gracie Kelly after her thesis defence in July.

Stories about places—What do they mean to disparate social groups? How do they assert a sense of ownership over a piece of land? These are the complex questions that UVic History graduate student Sabina Trimble sets out to address in her award-winning article in BC Studies, “Storying Swí:lhcha: Place Making and Power at a Stó:lō Landmark.” Her work just won the 2016 BC Studies Prize, a very notable achievement for a student who has just completed her Master’s degree.  

Trimble’s research, which was supervised by UVic Historian John Lutz, focuses on Swí:lhcha/Cultus Lake, south of Chilliwack, BC. The article grew out of a field school in which Trimble heard a variety of stories about the lake, some oral history from local elders, others written down. Her article traces stories about the lake both from local Stó:lō peoples and from the settler populations of the area. As she notes, storytelling is something everyone does, regardless of our ethnic or cultural backgrounds: “we all tell stories about places and what they mean to us.”

In the case of Swí:lhcha/Cultus Lake, stories from diverse groups frame “senses of belonging and ownership” that have been central to how the community perceives the lake and what activities should happen there. As she argues, we cannot understand one type of story without the other: “Colonial place-making stories justifying Indigenous dispossessions cannot be understood except in terms of their relationships to coexisting, often competing, Stó:lō stories.”

Trimble aspires to a form of historical scholarship that reaches out to communities and gives back to those same communities, increasing the impact of traditional scholarship. Her work combines methods, approaches and and philosophies from multiple disciplines, including history and ethnography, community-centred research and folklore studies. Through this work, she hopes to “connect the past to the present and in turn to the future,” lessening the gap between “what was and what is.”