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O'Brien leads aboriginal women

Lorraine O'Brien is the new president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women's Council.

Lorraine O’Brien is the new president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council.

The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation member was the first to stand up, alone, last year to demand Chief Eddie Skookum resign after his 21-year-old girlfriend was found beaten and bloody in the parking lot of a Haines, Alaska, motel on July 4. Skookum was charged with felony assault but pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and was ordered into a 30-day treatment program for alcohol abuse.

“I feel overwhelmed and excited all at the same time,” O’Brien said of being acclaimed as the women’s council president. “Being nominated by an elder was heartfelt for me, it almost made me cry.”

It was Shirley Adamson, former Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and current executive elder for the women’s council, who put O’Brien’s name forward.

Last November, it was the elders of O’Brien’s own First Nation that quashed her hopes of seeing Skookum stripped of the chief’s job.

A special general assembly was called for the Carmacks-based First Nation to discuss whether Skookum should be forced to resign.

The meeting in the town’s Heritage Hall came down to an elders’ vote. They affirmed his leadership, 14 to nine.

But that has not stopped O’Brien.

“We are still going forward with what we were working on: seeking Eddie’s resignation,” she said. “That will not stop until we are successful. And we actually do have lots of support.”

Details cannot be released yet, but O’Brien and her supporters are pursuing legal action on the issue, she said.

While this fight and her new position may seem to overlap, they must be kept separate, she said.

But managing her new duties should not be too difficult for O’Brien - she’s done it before.

From 2005 to 2007, O’Brien, who was elected vice-president for the council, stood in to take over the lead role.

“I am happy to be a part of the organization again,” she said. “I’ll do my best for the people, the women and children of the Yukon, and I hope I don’t disappoint the elder who nominated me.”

After an executive board meeting Wednesday, O’Brien has already started work.

Raising money for the council is a main priority, she said.

She and her other board members will be contacting all four candidates vying for Yukon’s representation in Ottawa to scope out their support, she said.

And with a 36-year-history of advocacy in the territory, the council “will continue to be a strong voice for aboriginal women in the Yukon,” said youth board member Amanda Mudry.

“The role of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Circle is an important one - and it’s not just because we represent 12 to 13 per cent of Yukon’s total population,” she added. “I think there’s a lot of ideas as to how we can move forward as an organization and how we can move some of our key issues forward both here in the Yukon and nationally.”

While no concrete plans have been set yet for new council initiatives, Mudry confirmed that the group will continue to work on actions they have supported in the past, like the Yukon Sisters in Spirit project, which is set to finish on March 21, 2013.

There’s also the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training program and many other smaller projects that the council works on with other organizations, like workshops on stopping intergenerational effects of residential schools and providing Yukon representation at women’s gatherings around the world, said Mudry.

It’s a lot of work, she said, noting that it has been a while since the council had a full board.

“It’s been a busy year and it’s really nice to have new people coming along to help share the load.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at