Shared from the 3/23/2020 Star Tribune eEdition


He was an advocate for tribal rights, journalism


Charles Trimble, leader of the National Congress of American Indians, in 1972.

Charles Trimble, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe who dedicated his life to advancing the causes of self-determination, sovereignty and human rights for Native Americans, died March 2 at a hospital in Omaha. He was 84.

Trimble, who overcame early poverty, wore many hats. He helped establish a news service for American Indian newspapers. He also mediated disputes between the tribes and the U.S. government.

He started Charles Trimble Co., a national consulting firm specializing in economic development on Indian reservations. He also founded Red Willow Institute, a nonprofit that provided technical and management assistance to Indian nonprofits.

Trimble was concerned that issues of deep importance to Native Americans were going uncovered by the mainstream press. In 1969, he helped found the American Indian Press Association, a news service that covered tribe-related news in Washington, D.C., and made the articles available to scores of tribal newspapers. More of an organizer than a working journalist, Trimble brought together the tribal editors and helped them exchange ideas and decide which projects the Washington bureau should pursue. He was sometimes called “a founding father of Native American journalism.”

Trimble left the press association in 1972 when he was elected executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, which was established in 1944 to oppose the assimilation policies that the U.S. government tried to impose on tribes. In that capacity, he lobbied Congress on behalf of Native Americans, pressing broadly for tribal rights, such as protecting their status as sovereign nations and preserving indigenous cultures.

Mediator between BIA, AIM

“Indians felt they were not being treated fairly by the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” his wife, Anne Trimble, said in an interview. “His role was to mediate between the bureau and the American Indian Movement,” the activist group founded in Minneapolis in 1968 and, in 1972, that occupied the BIA offices in Washington, D.C.

“Building a consensus was his real gift,” she added. “He had a knack for bringing people together.”

Charles Ellis Trimble was born March 12, 1935, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the youngest of 11 children. When Chuck’s mother fell ill, the state wanted to put him up for adoption. But she placed him instead at a local Jesuit boarding school, Holy Rosary Mission (now Red Cloud Indian School). While working for the National Congress of American Indians, he chaired the group’s economic development committee and served on the board of directors of the American Indian National Bank in Washington. He also represented Native Americans at several U.N. gatherings, including in Denmark and Switzerland.

For many years, he wrote a column for Indian Country Today on historical events and contemporary issues.

He was president of the Nebraska State Historical Society, which was involved in a dispute with the Pawnee tribe. For many years the society had been holding the skeletal remains of hundreds of Native Americans, and the Pawnee wanted them back to give them a proper burial.

Trimble de-escalated the tensions between the two groups, and ultimately the skeletal remains were returned to the tribe.

“He was able to bring a healing spirit to that table, which was desperately needed,” Judi gaiashkibos executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, told the Omaha World-Herald after his death. (She says she uses a lowercase letter for her last name as a sign of humility.)

“Building a consensus was his real gift. He had a knack for bringing people together.” Anne Trimble, his wife

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