A clash between Christian values and traditional First Nation customs in Little Salmon/Carmacks may have led to the firing of the woman responsible for a landmark land claims case against the territory.
Susan Davis, who helped build a court case against the Yukon government over a small piece of traditional land, is now taking her former employer to court.
Previously the director of lands and resources, Davis is suing the First Nation for wrongful dismissal and harassment.
Her case is laid out in a statement of claim filed in court on December 3.
While working for the First Nation, Davis said she was called “Captain of Satan,” “Hitler,” and “white God-like saviour” by coworkers.
Her work with local elders and Peruvian aboriginals, including her focus on incorporating more traditional knowledge in programs and operations of the First Nation, clashed with certain people of strong Christian beliefs who pushed her out of her job, said her partner, Lee Carruthers.
“There are people in the First Nation who are strong Christians and have strong views regarding traditional knowledge,” he said.
“They don’t want to return to traditional spiritual practices. That’s where a lot of this came from.”
Davis had been working for the First Nation on and off for several years, mostly on loan from other governments, before signing a two-year contract with Little Salmon/Carmacks.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada first loaned Davis to the First Nation in 2000, when she was Ottawa’s assistant resource management officer for the Northern Tutchone District.
Davis worked in the land and resource department for Little Salmon/Carmacks until January 2002, when she returned to her job with Indian Affairs.
Several months later, the First Nation asked Davis to come back and she worked for two more years, from April 2003 to March 2005.
Officials at Little Salmon/Carmacks were keen to hire Davis and emphasized the quality of her work in evaluations and in its pursuit of her employment, said her lawyer Andre Roothman.
Then Davis was asked to leave her government job for the director of lands and resources job at Little Salmon/Carmacks.
Her contract covered two years, for which she would be paid $51,000 annually — almost $13,000 less than she was earning at the time.
One year into her contract, Davis was fired.
It was without cause and is a “wanton or reckless breach of contract,” she believes.
Davis developed back-to-land programs for the First Nation meant to increase land occupation to stop incursions from other governments and industry.
These programs included elements to help residential school and sexual abuse survivors deal with their past.
Several Peruvian aboriginals visited Carmacks to lead local First Nations in workshops on traditional knowledge.
Davis then organized a September 2006 trip to Peru where several First Nation members participated in spiritual ceremonies.
Her focus on traditional knowledge led to strained relations within the community among those with strong Christian beliefs, said Roothman.
“Some of these people were members of the (Little Salmon/Carmacks) administration, but to what extent and who played what role is unknown right now,” said Roothman.
Viola Mullet, then the executive director and now implementation manager for Little Salmon/Carmacks, hired and fired Davis.
Mullet sent Davis the October 4 letter outlining the reasons for her dismissal.
When contacted, Mullet declined to comment.
Asked about the clash between Christian values and traditional knowledge in the community, she also declined comment.
Open and frank discussions about sexual abuse, past and present, may have led to frayed relations between Davis and some members of the First Nation.
“She was working with people who began to speak,” said Carruthers.
“They got into circles and talked about things that were uncomfortable to certain people.”
Rumours and accusations of sexual abuse not related to residential schools have persisted in the community, and Davis may have been tapping into that, said Roothman.
“I believe there have been accusations made and people are not keen to have that sort of thing leak out of the community,” said Roothman.
Roothman would not go into specifics about why the First Nation fired Davis, but it involves her conduct in the workplace.
On October 4, 2006, the day Davis was fired, she received a letter outlining allegations about her behaviour.
“They sent Susan little more than a four-page defamatory rant,” said Carruthers.
He didn’t go into the specific language of the letter.
The allegations were superficial, said Roothman.
“It seems to be a conflict of personalities at the end of the day,” he said.
“I’m not going to go into specifics — there’s different perceptions on a number of issues.”
The facts will come out in court, he added.
Davis had successfully applied for Employment Insurance, but then her former employer appealed the benefits. The appeal was dismissed.
These actions were “extremely harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious,” says her statement to the court.
The denial of the First Nation’s unemployment insurance appeal is already a small victory, said Roothman.
The appeals tribunal essentially said Davis was fired without cause.
“At that level, she was vindicated,” he said.
In the workplace, a number of coworkers were harassing her, says the statement.
Mullet and Dawn Charlie are named in the statement as people who allegedly harassed Davis on the job.
Davis did complain to her employer about being called “Hitler,” “Captain of Satan,” and “white God-like saviour,” while in the workplace, but apparently the complaints fell on deaf ears.
Regular counselling sessions are needed now to deal with the severe emotional, physical and intellectual stress caused by her ordeal, said the statement.
Davis is seeking several things in court — monetary rewards, both punitive and aggravated damages, legal costs and a declaration that she was dismissed without cause.
With one year left on her contract, compensation for lost salary is a target, said Roothman.
“She basically lost out on a year’s salary,” he said.
Little Salmon/Carmacks has 21 days from December 13 to file a statement of defense.