With less than a year left in his term, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eddie Skookum’s leadership survived another vote on the weekend.
More than 100 of the 149 people who voted were in favour of keeping Skookum on as chief until the end of his term next January.
The vote was taken to settle a two-year dispute about whether he should continue to govern after he was charged with assaulting his common-law wife in July, 2010. She was found badly beaten in a Haines, Alaska motel parking lot. He was charged with felony assault, but later pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment.
At the time he was first charged, some members called for his resignation. In November, 2010 a vote was taken by the elders and they decided to keep him on.
That decision was appealed and later petitioned in the courts on the grounds the voting process didn’t follow the First Nation’s constitution.
Opponents said the leadership question was confused with general election discussion and that language interpreters were not allowed. There were also concerns that not everyone was allowed to speak to that assembly and that the vote was done publicly with a show of hands.
This past weekend the First Nation held another meeting to try to resolve the legal dispute. Another vote was taken, this time by secret ballot. They voted 109-40 to let Skookum remain as chief.
Joy O’Brien, who had pushed for the re-vote, was satisfied with the result.
“Everybody got their say, and everybody listened very respectfully and everybody was honest,” she said, after casting her own ballot on Saturday.
“That was all we wanted. The constitution was followed today. I think we’re on the path to healing. If you have the chance to do something right, then you do it right so people have their chance to be heard and voice their opinion.
“I am happy and proud to be part of this First Nation today.”
The meeting ran for more than seven hours. The constitution and citizens’ rights were read before lunch, and afterwards the microphone was offered to all who attended. More than 50 people took the opportunity to speak.
Now the challenge will be to reunite the community which was intensely divided during this two-year ordeal.
As well, the Carmacks-based First Nation will have to rebuild its broader reputation.
“There’s a lot of unfair views of the First Nation,” said 22-year-old Tyrell Vance in an interview just before the votes were counted.
“There’s a lot of good people (here) and there’s a lot of strong-minded individuals. But I think we still have a lot of room to grow.”
As for Skookum, he said he was tired after the stressful meeting and after more than 16 years as chief.
“We want to stop all the babbling and we want to work together,” he said.
“It’ a long-time coming. Now that this is out of the way, we can more pursue the interests of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation people.”
The next general election for the First Nation is scheduled for January 2013.
Skookum said he needs to speak with his people again before deciding whether he will seek re-election.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org