‘Violence is not our tradition,” read the placard Agnes Mills gripped in her hand.
It’s not easy to come out and publicly show support, said the Vuntut Gwitch’in elder, of her participation in a recent rally protesting violence against women.
“It’s very difficult to talk about our own people, put down our own people, knowing about the history that our own people have endured … and why some of us need so much help,” she said. “We’ve all been there. I’ve been there myself.”
The protest was held outside of the Council of Yukon First Nation offices – during leadership meetings – for a reason, said organizers.
The fight to force the resignation of Eddie Skookum, chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, is still very much alive.
Skookum was convicted of reckless endangerment after his 21-year-old girlfriend was found beaten in a Haines, Alaska motel parking lot nearly a year ago. He was ordered into a 30-day treatment program for alcohol abuse.
In November, the First Nation’s elders affirmed Skookum’s position as chief.
Mills respects the elders and the people of Carmacks, she said, adding she hopes, “Chief Skookum will get the help that he needs, like all other people that are abusers.”
It was the future, not the past that brought Mills to the rally.
“I see too many children suffer because of violence,” she said. “We see too much misery here. It seems like we’re alone and it’s a silent issue and it’s got to stop. I have a lot of belief in our leaders and, even though this has been a silent issue for our people, it’s time for them to come out and listen and help us with this issue because they are not just helping us, they are helping their whole community and the nationhood.”
Only two aboriginal leaders walked across the street to join the rally. Regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations Eric Morris and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
“I think they deserve all of the support they are asking for,” Morris said about the rally participants.
When it comes to Skookum, “that’s something, personally, that he has to deal with,” said Morris.
Massie also deflected questions about Skookum by noting the only one who can answer them is Skookum himself.
“Where do I draw the line?” she said. “If we go into a community to talk about it, it’s considered interference in community affairs. So where do I draw that line? Do I respect the community? Or do I interfere with the community? Unless I’m invited to a community, I am not going to impose myself.
“As far as what happened in that community, we certainly need Chief Skookum to step up to the plate. It is with his community.
“If it was my community, I certainly would be addressing it publicly, in front of our citizens and to the people that are concerned.”
The group ended the rally by holding hands and forming a prayer circle in the dusty, vacant lot on the corner of Second Avenue and Black Street.
At one point, Massie let go of the territory’s New Democratic Party leader Liz Hanson’s hand, who stood to her left.
She lifted her sunglasses to wipe away tears.
“I can feel everybody’s plight on both sides,” she said. “The way I feel, personally, as an aboriginal woman, I need to support this initiative. As grand chief, I would like to be here to represent our organization and our citizens when it comes to this. We need to bring awareness and education that this is an issue and it is not going to go away. We need to deal with it.
“As uncomfortable as this issue is, we have to deal with it until it is eradicated.”
Skookum did not attend Tuesday’s leadership meetings, said Massie.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at