When two Watson Lake Mounties were tried for sexual assault this spring, the territory’s women’s groups were quick to cast blame, even after the men were acquitted.
The reaction of these groups to the conviction of Eddie Skookum, chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, has been far more muted by comparison.
Two weeks ago, the long-serving chief accepted a plea bargain that saw several charges, including the felony of assault, reduced to a misdemeanour of reckless endangerment in a Haines, Alaska court. Prosecutors accepted the deal after Skookum’s young girlfriend refused to take the stand.
Whatever happened on July 4 in the Captain’s Choice Motel left Skookum’s 21-year-old girlfriend badly beaten. The room was later found to be a mess of blood and broken furniture.
Some counsellors have called on Skookum to resign. But he plans to stay on.
Skookum won’t speak to the News. But, in a CBC interview, he explained the attack was just “one mistake.”
He went on to explain how he saw himself as a victim, too.
“How would you expect me to try and heal when you probably are judging me the way you are right now?”
Women’s groups have been slow to respond to Skookum’s plans to stay on as chief because some representatives are out of town, said Charlotte Hrenchuk with the Yukon Status of Women Council.
“Oftentimes, when these things happen we come together, because we don’t want to be presenting dribs and drabs to the media,” she said. “Some of us were out of territory at the time. You will be hearing from us.”
Skookum should resign, said Hrenchuk.
“If anyone’s convicted of assault against another human being, yes, I think they should step down,” she said.
Julianna Scramstad, director of Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, agrees. “He’s not being a leader or a role model at this point,” she said.
Allowing Skookum to stay would send a message that violence against women is acceptable, said Scramstad.
“I think it means the seriousness of violence against women is suddenly made less serious. It’s like it’s a little mistake – it’s fine for anybody to do that.”
Violence against women in the Yukon is a “huge issue,” she said. But it’s largely out of sight, because “most of it happens behind closed doors.”
Adeline Webber with the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle said on Monday that her group, along with the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, would soon release a statement on Skookum.
She did not return subsequent calls. Victoria Fred with the council did not return a call either.
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