Eddie Skookum, chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, may have been re-elected by just five votes on Thursday, but he isn’t taking the narrow victory as an expression of doubt over his leadership.
“We’re first cousins,” he says of his challenger, “so it would take a toll on the family vote.”
So it goes in an election race for a First Nation of about 500 beneficiaries. Family allegiances often make or break electoral runs.
Skookum has been in power for 12 years, which puts him in the running for the title of Yukon’s longest-serving chief. He now has another four years ahead of him.
But blood ties are only one of many reasons why he faced his most difficult election race ever.
His challenger, George Skookum, is not just a first cousin. He’s a councillor with the First Nation. He’s an assistant finance director for the First Nation. And he’s popular in Carmacks for his volunteer work with children at the hockey rink, among other activities.
Not only did Skookum face a competent challenger, but the First Nation has some big issues ahead of it — the development of a contentious copper mine and an ongoing legal dispute with the Yukon government, which is wending its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, to name but two.
Yet neither candidate ran on much of a platform. And while these big issues loomed in the background, the election appeared to be dominated by more bread-and-butter issues.
Take housing. The First Nation owns more than 100 housing units. How it distributes these units is, no surprise, a source of controversy. There are only enough units to house a fraction of beneficiaries. Those who don’t get a unit are quick to allege nepotism. Clear rules on how housing is doled out currently do not exist, although the housing committee is working on such a set of rules.
In his online election pitch, Skookum made some strange statements about the housing situation given that he’s an incumbent hoping to be re-elected.
“Housing meetings should be held open to the public, that way everyone would know what was going on,” he wrote.
“One of the problems that will have to be dealt with is that the First Nation members are unaware of what is going on in the First Nation office. Every member should have the opportunity to know what is going on and have a chance to voice their opinions.”
In an interview, Skookum is less blunt.
Housing meetings have always been open to the public, he said. The problem is that not enough people attend such meetings.
To bolster understanding of the First Nation office’s workings, Skookum plans to restart the First Nation’s newsletter. He also hopes to hold more meetings in Whitehorse for beneficiaries who live in the city and currently feel “left out.”
And he plans to keep doing what he has always done, serving as a spokesman for the First Nation and a master of ceremonies at community potlatches and other events.
Beyond this, Skookum is reluctant to state any goals.
“I’m not going to say, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. I’m going to wait for the council so we can all have a voice.”
Contact John Thompson at j