Eddie Skookum will remain as chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, after elders in the Yukon First Nation voted this weekend to keep him as chief despite an assault controversy that has divided the community.
Elders voted 14-9 in favour of keeping Skookum as chief at a special general assembly held Saturday in Carmacks, Yukon, where he has been chief since 1996.
"Thank God that I got the blessed kindness from the elders. I just want to start out clean as a leader," Skookum said following the vote, as supporters hugged him and cheered outside the venue where it took place.
Skookum, 56, was arrested and jailed in July after his 21-year-old partner was found bloody and unconscious at a motel in Haines, Alaska.
Felony charges of assault and impaired driving were dismissed in September, after the woman refused to testify against him.
Skookum pleaded guilty to a less serious charge of reckless endangerment as part of a plea bargain reached with Alaska state prosecutors.
Lost moral authority, some argued
Some First Nation members have since called on Skookum to resign as chief, arguing that he has lost the moral authority and credibility to lead.
"They want an abuser for their leader? I mean, what kind of statement is that showing to other communities? I mean, it's really shameful," member Lorraine O'Brien said after Saturday's vote.
In a CBC News interview on Sept. 16, Skookum admitted that he was drunk at the time of the incident. He has since entered an alcohol treatment program.
As well, Skookum said he, his partner and both of their families would hold a healing circle to deal with the aftermath of the incident.
Skookum said while he has made mistakes, he was confident the majority of the First Nation's members would stand behind him.
'He's not a violent man': elder
On Saturday, Skookum addressed elders and members in a closed-door session, then waited outside while the elders decided his fate.
"He helps anybody, no matter who it is," elder Gary Sam said. "I've known him for many years. He's not a violent man."
Coun. Joseph O'Brien angrily tore up the First Nation's constitution after the vote, saying he refuses to represent a First Nation that condones violence from its leaders.
O'Brien said he will resign as councillor and continue circulating a petition calling for Skookum's resignation.
Following the vote, Skookum thanked the elders for their support and said he wants to start anew.
"I've been asked to stay strong and they've given me a lot of support," Skookum said.
"This time, I hope to take a step back when things [are] going to happen, and hopefully I don't have any more of this problem again."
Skookum said he plans to get back to work immediately, to deal with business that has accumulated over the past five months.