The fate of Eddie Skookum’s tenure as chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation will go to another vote this weekend.
The last vote was held five months after Skookum was charged with felony assault. He later pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment after his 21-year-old common-law wife, Julie Smith, was found beaten and bloody in a Haines, Alaska, parking lot on July 4, 2010.
The result of the first vote was appealed and then petitioned in Yukon Supreme Court.
The November 2010 meeting ended with an elders’ vote, which decided to keep Skookum as chief.
But the proper procedure wasn’t followed, said Joy O’Brien, a member of the group that filed the petition in court.
The First Nation’s constitution says the elders can decide after hearing all sides of the story, she said.
But that never happened at the last meeting, she added.
“In the constitution, it says the elders will listen to the general assembly debate and that was the part that was missed. The only people that spoke were the councillors, and we already knew their position. But nobody else was able to voice their concerns.
“People needed to be heard. For the message to get switched around to say we go against what our elders say … A wrong message was sent.”
On top of that, the vote at the 2010 meeting was about whether the First Nation agreed to amend its constitution to hold an election before the term’s end.
But the question was supposed to simply be, “Is the chief fit or not?” said O’Brien.
Within a month of the 2010 meeting, the group led by Lorraine O’Brien – a citizen of the First Nation and a women’s rights activist – filed an appeal with the First Nation, as is outlined in the constitution.
The group received a letter, signed by Skookum, informing them the First Nation was looking into its allegations. A year later, the group still hadn’t heard anything else so it took the issue to court.
Now, the court has agreed to adjourn the petition until after another assembly is held this weekend in hopes of correcting the mistakes made in 2010.
So this Saturday, at 10 a.m., citizens of the Carmacks-based First Nation will gather at the Heritage Hall for a vote.
But it won’t be that different from the 2010 meeting.
Apart from keeping the vote specifically about whether Skookum is fit to serve out the rest of his term, there won’t be time for people to speak – it will just be a vote, said an employee of the First Nation on Tuesday who is helping organize the meeting.
For O’Brien, that news is a real shame.
“As a parent, I don’t like this division and I don’t like taking sides and I don’t feel like I’m on any side right now,” she said. “I am on the side of my children’s future. What we do today is going to shape their lives.”
The First Nation is still young, in terms of its self-governance. The legislation that it has drafted hasn’t been tested before, said O’Brien. But it is being tested now.
Like the teachings and rules of the ancestors years ago, the constitution is the law of the people, and it should be upheld, she said.
The petition wasn’t put in court to force Skookum to resign, it was put there to make sure the proper procedure and process is followed, said O’Brien.
The rules of the First Nation say everyone is equal and has the right to have their voice heard, she added.
“They’re defending (Skookum) for a reason, and I haven’t heard that reason,” she said. “I want to go in with an open mind. I want us all to go in with an open mind and just hear one another.”
O’Brien sees this meeting as setting a precedent.
“People need to take interest in their government but things like this stop them,” she said. “(The 2010) meeting was confusing and I saw a lot of influencing. Just give the facts and let them make their own decisions. Our elders were put in a compromising position and I felt bad for them. I still do. They were divided.”
The First Nation did take suggestions from O’Brien and others on how to run the meeting this coming weekend. Unlike the 2010 meeting, there will be an interpreter for the elders at her request.
“I have hope,” she said of Saturday’s meeting. “But I’m also realistic.”
Skookum’s term is set to end in January, just under a year from now.
If Saturday’s meeting does not abide by the constitution, the petition will be back in court.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at