Affirmed as chief, Eddie Skookum now rules over a divided First Nation.
In what came down to an elders’ vote on Saturday, Eddie Skookum kept his job as chief and Joseph O’Brien resigned as a councillor.
Both Joseph and his wife Lorraine have mounted a public campaign to get Skookum to resign after he was charged with assault in Alaska in July.
The crowd in the parking lot of the Heritage Hall on the north side of the Yukon River in Carmacks was divided and tense as citizens hung around smoking cigarettes, waiting for the elders’ decision.
On one side were the O’Briens with one or two supporters. On the other, Skookum with a buoyant throng, including some of Lorraine’s own sisters.
This division does not rest on family lines, nor clan, like in some other Yukon First Nations. This one cuts right through families, leaving Lorraine and Joseph as outcasts.
“I don’t even want my body brought back here in a box,” said Joseph, while pacing around the lot.
Lorraine stood with her back to the crowd that kept laughing loudly and chanting “Edd-ie” over her pledge to keep her fight going. The former president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council said she would never call a man who abuses women “chief.”
Joseph said the same. He wanted to have an election called on the basis that Skookum broke the First Nations’ constitution by abusing alcohol.
“What good is this if a chief can do whatever he wants?” he said as he ripped the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation constitution in half.
“I may be an outcast, but I’ll hold my head up. I’ll never be able to look in the mirror if I accept him as chief. He’s not a chief. It’s a title for someone who deserves respect. I have no respect for the guy.”
Then Joseph drove out of the parking lot in his pickup truck.
Skookum called his outburst unprofessional.
“I just want to start out clean as a leader that is going to do everything that’s right for his people in the future,” he said after those who voted to keep him embraced him in congratulatory hugs.
Skookum said he will be in counseling for the next few years and said he figures he has about 85 per cent support from his people.
Lorraine O’Brien said she will continue to garner signatures for her petition against his leadership while Joseph said even though he is running on empty, he will see what he can do for his people.
“I had calls from people at home crying, while they were cheering [on Saturday]. He split our people apart! What kind of leader is that?”
The Council of Yukon First Nation leadership will be meeting next week, says Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
Any comment is reserved until after that time, when Skookum will have the chance to address the other chiefs, she says.
In the meantime, Joseph O’Brien says he isn’t sure what they are going to do now that he is without a salary.
“Even as a councillor we were just getting by,” he said. Lorraine is enrolled in college courses and the couple lives in Carmacks. His phone and other amenities will probably have to be cut off, he said.
The O’Briens said they may look to other Yukon First Nations for adoption.
Skookum has 18 months before he must face an election.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org