Carmacks MLA Eric Fairclough endorsed Eddie Skookum as chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. And he opposed him too.
When given the chance to provide leadership in the fractured community, Fairclough kept his hands down. He did not cast a vote at the First Nation’s special general assembly to decide how to deal with Skookum.
Citizens were voting on a change to their constitution that would force a politician to face an election at any time during their term in office.
The amendment was proposed as a way of dealing with Skookum’s leadership, which was called into question after he was arrested and charged for beating his 21-year-old girlfriend in Haines, Alaska, this summer.
The meeting was often contentious. Fairclough simply observed.
In the end, through a show of hands, citizens agreed to let the elders decide the matter.
They chose to keep the constitution as it was.
“I support the decision that was made by the elders council,” Fairclough said. “Those constitutions took a long time to develop and it took a lot of public consultation, so if the elders felt that way, to have him fulfill his term in office, then that’s where it is.”
Fairclough wouldn’t say if he supports Skookum. But he does not condone violence against women, he said.
“Those that commit violence against women should be punished,” he said. “We don’t want to see it around us, it happens all the time. We try to make it better through education …
and try to set an example so that this kind of stuff doesn’t carry on with the next generation.”
Some community members have questioned whether the vote was fair.
Like all non-elder citizens, Fairclough was not allowed inside the room as the final decision was being made.
“In the end, I believe some people felt that way simply because it was the elders council making the decision and the people didn’t seem to have a voice in that,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion about that again in the upcoming annual general assembly, and maybe the elders will meet again, who knows?
“This seems to be bringing the First Nation down a little bit and I think all citizens recognize that, that they’re not looked at in a very good light and something needs to be done.”
The AGM usually happens around June, before Skookum’s term is over, said Fairclough.
Many people compare the federal Senate to an elders council, said Yukon New Democratic Party Leader Liz Hanson.
Recently, Canada has seen examples of manipulation and misuse of that chamber, she said.
“I am not saying that that’s what happened with Little Salmon/Carmacks. I’m just saying that they’re not immune to that sort of politicking either – governments do it,” said Hanson, the only public politician to attend the morning rally against Skookum at the Council of Yukon First Nations on November 17.
But if the public saw First Nations as actual governments, their leaders would be held to the same standard as other politicians, said Hanson.
In this instance, people have been hesitant to speak up, she said.
“I can have an opinion and my opinion is that I abhor the act of violence against women and children, including the act that happened in Haines,” said Yukon Liberal Party Leader Arthur Mitchell. “But I don’t really have an opportunity to do something about it.”
If the First Nation failed to address the issue, the public would have the right to criticize. But it did meet and made a decision, which closes the door to further attack, said Mitchell.
“If we’re going to respect the autonomy of self-governing First Nations then I think we have to bite our lips, perhaps, and respect the decisions they make. We may not agree with them, but we have to respect that that’s who the decision-makers are.
“First Nations in this country have spent the last 150 years fighting for their autonomy and I am pretty reluctant to start passing judgments on what they should or shouldn’t decide on any issue.”
If this happened in the legislature, there are more levels of policing than within most self-governing First Nations in the territory, said Mitchell.
All citizens have the right to expect a clear code of ethical conduct to be outlined for their leaders, said Hanson.
It is that policy which is missing when it comes to the Council of Yukon First Nations.
The ability of the council’s leadership to collectively express their approval or disapproval on issues is missing, said Grand Chief Ruth Massie. Whether any repercussions can be decided for leaders at the table, like being able to remove them, demands more discussion she said.
“We’ve briefly discussed the need for a policy and we will talk about that, and the options, probably in future leadership meetings, but … we need to have a thorough discussion and an understanding on what we want the outcome to be.”
But the council and leadership must respect the decision the community made, Massie said, adding that, even as Grand Chief, she must be invited before she can attend another Yukon First Nations general assembly.
“We have no business interfering with their business and we have to respect the decisions they make – whether they’re good or bad,” she said.
Skookum failed to attend the CYFN leadership meeting on November 17.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at