Lorraine O’Brien doesn’t wear her Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation jacket anymore.
She’s too embarrassed.
Her cousin Eddie Skookum – chief of Little Salmon/Carmacks – was charged with felony assault on July 4th after his 21-year-old girlfriend was found badly beaten and bloody, lying in a hotel parking lot in Haines, Alaska.
The hotel room was covered in blood, including the sheets and carpets, and broken glass littered the floor, Captain’s Choice Motel owner Ed Lapeyri told the News at the time.
Police arrested Skookum at the waterfront, where he had locked himself in a truck.
“Nobody in Carmacks knew anything,” said O’Brien.
“And suddenly we heard Eddie’s in jail in Alaska.”
She was “shocked.”
But the hush that followed was even more shocking.
Skookum returned to the community, after his battered girlfriend refused to testify and his charges dropped from assault, a felony, to the lesser misdemeanour of reckless endangerment.
On his return, some band councillors asked Skookum to resign.
But he made it clear he plans to stay on as chief.
“And people who work for the band were told not to speak out,” said O’Brien.
“I mean, look how he threatened CHON FM.” (Skookum threatened to sue the local radio station after it aired comments critical of his leadership.)
Women’s groups in the territory were also mute.
“The silence at that time was deafening,” said O’Brien, who used to be president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council.
And at first, she was also afraid to speak up.
“Then I looked on my computer for information about freedom of speech,” she said.
“And it gives me the right to voice my opinions.”
Now, as the sole voice of criticism coming out of Carmacks, O’Brien is worried Skookum’s refusal to step down will erode confidence and trust in her First Nation.
“If he doesn’t face up to the consequences, it says Carmacks is OK with violence against women and children,” she said.
Skookum did not return calls from the News, but he told CBC Radio One: “How would you expect me to try and heal when you probably are judging me the way you are right now?”
Skookum has to “deal with what he did,” said O’Brien.
“If he wants to heal, he needs to resign as chief and go to work on healing.”
As chief, he’s required to abstain from alcohol and drugs, and should have been sober for three years prior to taking office, she added.
O’Brien has lived in Carmacks all her life, and knows there might be a backlash from speaking her mind.
“But I’m not going to hide from anyone,” she said.
“I’m going to keep on with this fight until the day he resigns.”
After meeting with Yukon women’s groups, O’Brien finally got some support.
“We are calling on all leaders, aboriginal and nonaboriginal, to be strong and united in asserting that there is absolutely zero tolerance for violence against women,” wrote Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, Yukon Status of Women Council and Les EssentiElles representatives in a news release.
“We are asking them to request the immediate resignation of elected representatives that have been convicted for violent crime.”
It’s incumbent on leaders to be held to a higher standard because they are role models, said Tracy Porteous, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia.
And the woman who’s been victimized also needs support, she said.
In Skookum’s case, “It’s sad to hear the community has been silent,” said Porteous.
“We need leaders to stand up and say we don’t condone violence and we won’t stay silent when a woman has been beaten and abused.”
Porteous is calling on men to end the violence.
“There is a status quo of silence among men,” she said.
“And we won’t be able to end the epidemic of violence against women until men stand up and hold each other accountable.”
It’s not surprising Skookum’s young girlfriend refused to take the stand, she added.
“It’s hard to lay charges against someone you love, or care about.
“Or, maybe her life was threatened, or the life of her family, and she is scared.”
Skookum has been charged with assault before, once in 1990, again in 1991 and in 1993, according to court files.
In other jurisdictions, there are acts that remove public officials from office when convicted of a violent crime, said the news release from local women’s groups.
“This kind of legislation is needed in all governments in Yukon, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, for credibility with citizens and the protection of victims and their families.”
There is a reluctance to speak out against violence that occurs in First Nation or immigrant families, said Porteous.
“But it shouldn’t matter what the demographic is, we need to stand up and say this is not OK.”
In Carmacks, the community is divided, said O’Brien.
“Some want to give Skookum a chance.”
But there are other people in the community who want him to resign, she said.
“And I want to encourage other community members to speak out, so people can be aware I am not the only voice out there.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at
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