Derrick Gould’s farm is one of two left in his community.
“We’re the last thread hold of the First Nation agriculture, farming way of life,” Gould told the Manitoba Co-operator.
Forty years ago, Gould’s community of Pinaymootang (Fairford) First Nation was home to more than 30 farmers. As the community’s population grew, available farmland diminished, squeezing some farmers out.
In the early 2000s, the BSE crisis hit Manitoba and Gould’s 150-head cow-calf operation.
“I still remember like it was yesterday,” Gould said, recalling when he and a bus of farmers from the First Nation drove to Winnipeg to seek aid, which they’d heard other beef producers were getting.
“It was there that we found out that there was no programs or anything set up for First Nation farmers, and my heart just sunk because what do we do? We were getting paid at the time 15 bucks a cow.”
The farmers from the community would get aid eventually, but for many it came too late.
Gould sold down most of his herd and took a job in the Alberta oilfields.
In 2011, catastrophic flooding around Lake St. Martin wiped out most of Gould’s fences and pasture land.
“And then we kind of had to start from scratch,” Gould said. “I wasn’t going to give up.”
Gould’s great-grandparents raised cattle long before the Gould farm was established. Their Anishinaabe community had a collective cattle herd, which families took turns taking 10 cows for two years. After two years passed, the family would keep the calves and pass on the cows to the next family.
Gould’s grandparents established the existing farm site in the late 1940s or early ’50s. They raised up to 80 cattle, “with a pitchfork,” Gould said.
He and his brothers worked on that farm as youngsters — pumping water by hand for the cattle, pitching hay.
“I lived that life. I lived without plumbing. I lived without running water in our house,” Gould said. “We were still pitching hay in the late ’80s, we were still pitching hay by hand.”
When they did get running water, Gould recalled the faucet was about 180 yards away from the trough. He’d fill barrels of water and pull them on a sleigh to the trough. Sometimes the sleigh would dump over on the way to the trough, and he’d have to start over.
“Sometimes I think maybe the old pump was easier,” he said.
When he was a little older, Gould’s grandfather gave him five cows to start his own herd. He was still pitching hay by hand. They had an old dump rake, which they pulled behind horses. In the early ’90s they bought a square baler.
“We thought this was the best thing ever,” Gould said. That summer they made a few thousand square bales.
As Derrick built his herd, he bought a round baler, tractor and side-wheel rake.
Today, the Gould family raises about 15 cows and nine horses, and cuts and bales hay to sell. They also fish on Lake St. Martin.
“We try to maintain that way of life, of living off the land for the next generation to come to have something to fall back on,” Gould said.
Gould continues to work off farm. He was involved in local politics for a while, and studied Aboriginal Political Governance at Red River College.
Gould’s father, Donald Gould, 86, still works alongside them.
“It really does something to me when I see my son and my father working together with me in the field,” Gould said.
This year, they burnt off a piece of land they weren’t able to cut since 2005 and wild hay came up. Gould’s son Blaze, 18, has made a business of cutting and selling hay.
Gould put his kids into 4-H, and all of them showed cattle. In 2004 his daughter won grand champion at the Lundar fair, and his son won reserve champion.
“One thing I was so proud of, that we were one of the only First Nations people who was involved in 4-H,” Gould said.
His granddaughter Danisse, 11, is also showing cattle with 4-H. She wants to be a doctor, said Gould. He laughed as he said he encouraged her to be a veterinarian — he’s done most of his own veterinary work over the years, self-taught.
His son wants to continue to farm, said Gould. Gould expressed concern for what supports Blaze would find, and said that in his experience, First Nations farmers are isolated from the Manitoba ag sector and don’t get the same supports.
Gould has struggled to get loans for farm equipment and infrastructure, and has had to go without crop or equipment insurance.
“Some days when I’m on the field and I’m working, I think — what if this thing catches on fire? This is a loss for me, a direct loss.”
Blaze will also have to decide if he’ll farm on the First Nation, where the land base is diminishing as the population grows, or leave to find more land to farm.
While this is fine with Gould, he said he wants to ensure the farming way of life is maintained at Pinaymootang.
“Growing up there, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know that land inside out,” Gould said.
“What you put into it is what you get out of it, and I always learned that from my Grandpa. My grandfather always said to us, ‘You wake up in the morning. You’ve got two good arms, two good legs. Don’t waste the day. There’s always something to contribute.’”
Gould’s son Blaze, 18, cuts and sells hay as a business.