The Yukon owes a debt of gratitude to the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
A majority of its elders have answered a long-standing and troubling question in aboriginal politics.
Saturday, they confirmed it is acceptable for First Nation leaders to drink themselves senseless, smash loved ones with heavy, blunt instruments until they are bloody, leave them unconscious in their own gore, flee the scene (without calling for help) and then drive around town in an alcoholic haze until they pass out by the side of the road.
After all, mistakes happen.
And when they do, a chief can simply enter a 28-day spin-dry treatment program and emerge innocent as the day he was born, reclaiming all the rights and titles he held before he pummeled a young woman into a senseless mess.
After all, according to some elders, Skookum is not a violent man.
In statements, Skookum has urged the public not to judge him on this “one mistake.”
But this leader’s heavy-handed approach has been around for a while.
According to court records, Skookum was charged with assault in 1990. And 1991. And 1993.
So it is good the question about whether clobbering people unconscious, bruised and bloody is acceptable behaviour for an aboriginal leader, or not, has finally been resolved.
This summer’s latest attack, which happened in Haines, Alaska, left a hotel room littered with broken furniture and spattered in blood like a murder scene, according to an innkeeper.
The 56-year-old Skookum was picked up by Haines police. He spent time in an Alaskan jail, where he unsuccessfully argued diplomatic immunity.
When his 21-year-old partner suddenly decided not to pursue the most serious charges against him, Skookum struck a plea bargain that saw him convicted of reckless endangerment.
The affair provoked a few calls for Skookum to resign.
His violence and drunkenness had undermined his right to lead the First Nation, said Joseph and Lorraine O’Brien.
But, while the issue was being resolved in the Heritage Hall, a large crowd of Skookum’s supporters stood in the parking lot chanting their leader’s name and jeering the O’Briens and their few supporters.
Then, in a 14-to-nine vote, the First Nation’s elders resolved the leadership question. Skookum can serve out his term as chief.
Joseph O’Brien, a councillor, resigned in protest.
Lorraine O’Brien, a former president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, hasn’t backed down either. She insists a guy who beats up women shouldn’t be leader.
Apparently this is the minority view.
And so, the two are now pondering their future in Carmacks.
Who can blame them?
Unlike other outrageous events, like Carmacks resident Raymond Silverfox’s death after incarceration in the police drunk tank, the RCMP’s indifference to the disappearance of Angel Carlick and the outrage over two police officers’ involvement in a threesome with a intoxicated woman in Watson Lake, there’s little discernible public anger about Skookum’s actions.
So far, other political and community leaders have been silent on the case.
The Council of Yukon First Nations has reserved judgement until it talks to Skookum.
And women’s groups have been unusually guarded in their response.
They issued a news release in September asserting there should be zero tolerance of violence against women and asking for the immediate resignation of leaders convicted of violent crimes.
But, the written statement came long after the attack and only after Lorraine O’Brien raised the issue publicly. All by herself.
The silence was deafening, she said at the time.
It still is.
Now, thanks to the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation’s special general assembly, the issue has been resolved and a precedent established.
Women can be beaten bloody, but that won’t necessarily cost an aboriginal chief his job.