After two years of division and infighting, the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is trying to put the past behind it.
But it will have to do it with Eddie Skookum still as chief.
With less than a year left in his term, Skookum’s leadership survived another vote on the weekend.
More than 100 of the 149 people, who voted at a special meeting, were in favour of keeping Skookum on as chief until the end of his term next January.
His leadership has been in dispute ever since he was charged with assaulting his common-law wife in July 2010. She was found badly beaten in a Haines, Alaska, motel parking lot. Skookum was charged with felony assault, but later pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment.
In November 2010, a vote was taken by the elders and they decided to keep him on.
That decision was appealed and later petitioned in the courts on the grounds that the voting process didn’t follow the First Nation’s constitution.
Critics said the leadership question was confused with general election discussion. There were also concerns that language interpreters were not allowed, that not everyone was allowed to speak and that the vote was taken with a public show of hands.
The First Nation held another meeting on the weekend to try to resolve the legal dispute. Another vote was taken, this time by secret ballot. They voted 109-40 to let Skookum remain as chief.
Joy O’Brien, who had pushed for the re-vote, was satisfied with the result.
“Everybody got their say, and everybody listened very respectfully and everybody was honest,” she said, after casting her own ballot on Saturday.
“That was all we wanted. The constitution was followed today. I think we’re on the path to healing. If you have the chance to do something right, then you do it right so people have their chance to be heard and voice their opinion.
“I am happy and proud to be part of this First Nation today.”
The meeting ran for more than seven hours. The constitution and citizens’ rights were read out before lunch. Afterwards, the microphone was offered to all who attended. More than 50 people took the opportunity to speak.
Citizen Lorraine O’Brien, a women’s rights activist who lives in the community, was the first to demand Skookum resign after the July 2010 incident.
She also attended Saturday’s meeting and cast her vote.
“The meeting was actually done in a positive manner and that’s what we wanted from the beginning,” she said. “If it was done like that in the beginning, then all of this wouldn’t have happened.”
Although the court challenge has not officially been withdrawn, the two women say they will not pursue it any further.
Now, the challenge will be to reunite the community which was strongly divided during the two-year dispute.
As well, the Carmacks-based First Nation will need to rebuild its reputation outside of the community.
“Carmacks is still looked at as condoning violence,” said Lorraine. “It looks like that never changed.”
“We knocked down a fairly powerful company not too long ago and this is overshadowing it and that’s bad,” said 22-year-old Tyrell Vance after the meeting on Saturday outside the community’s Heritage Hall.
He was referring to the First Nation’s May 2010 triumph when the Yukon Water Board rejected Western Copper’s bid to build an open-pit copper mine northwest of the community. The First Nation was worried the company’s proposed heap-leach operation would hurt the environment and fish stocks.
“There’s a lot of unfair views of the First Nation,” said Vance. “There’s a lot of good people (here) and there’s a lot of strong-minded individuals. But I think we still have a lot of room to grow because, in my personal opinion, in the 10 years that we have been a self-governing First Nation, there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress. In terms of growing and changing for the better, I think we’re a bit stagnant right now. But I believe (the First Nation) can grow and become better.
“I support (Skookum’s) decision to become sober and seek counseling and make himself a better person. That’s the one strong message he could send as a leader. But I don’t support violence or any kind of abuse to other people or to yourself. But forgiveness is a good thing. (The First Nation) is getting a lot of things off their chest and coming out with a more unified stance, which is a good thing.”
As for Skookum, he said he was tired after the “stressful” meeting and after spending more than 16 years as chief.
“We want to stop all the babbling and we want to work together,” he said.
“It’s a long time coming. Now that this is out of the way, we can more pursue the interests of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation people.”
The next general election is scheduled for January. Skookum said he’d need to speak with his people again before putting his name forward for re-election.
Vance said he plans to lead his First Nation at some point in the future, but isn’t sure if he’ll be ready by January.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at