Eddie Skookum will remain as chief for the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
Saturday, at an in-camera meeting at Carmacks’ Heritage Hall, the elders voted 14 to nine in favour of Skookum as other community members waited outside for the result.
The crowd in the parking lot was tense and divided, but most appeared to support Skookum.
Skookum was charged with felony assault after his common-law wife Julie Smith, 21, was found beaten and bloody in the parking lot of a Haines, Alaska, motel on July 4.
He pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in September and was ordered into a 30-day treatment program for alcohol abuse.
A special general assembly to decide whether Skookum should remain as chief was originally scheduled in October. A death in the community led to its postponement until Saturday – after Skookum had completed his treatment.
“I guess I learned that mistakes can happen and mistakes can be corrected and amended,” said Skookum, adding he has the support of at least 85 per cent his First Nation’s members.
“I hope to take a step back when things happen and, hopefully, I don’t have anymore of this problem again,” he said while being congratulated by supporters.
“I just want to start out clean as a leader that is going to do everything that’s right for his people in the future.”
His counselling will continue for the next few years, and the focus is now on healing and for First Nation members to work together, he said.
However, when the decision was left up to the elders, Joseph O’Brien, a First Nation councillor, resigned and ripped up the constitution.
He was trying to force an election at the assembly, asserting Skookum violated the First Nation’s constitution by abusing alcohol.
With Skookum’s leadership confirmed, Lorraine and Joseph O’Brien can no longer work with the First Nation.
“I may be an outcast but I’ll hold my head up,” he said. “I’ll never be able to look in the mirror if I accept him as chief. He’s not a chief. It’s a title for someone who deserves respect. I have no respect for the guy.”
With that, Joseph drove out of the parking lot.
The elders have known Skookum since he was young boy and he’s done good things for his people, said elder Gary Sam, explaining the vote.
Skookum confirmed he and Smith are still together.
“We’re having a very good and stable relationship,” he said.
Skookum has another 18 months left in his term.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at email@example.com