Saskatchewan

Controversy swirls around chief who sexually assaulted teen

The Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation, in southeast Saskatchewan, is in turmoil because the band's chief has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenage girl on the reserve.

Chief of the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation continues to hold office

A band chief's conviction for sexual assault has some in Saskatchewan's Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation raising concerns 2:29

Councillor 'fired' for speaking out

Clarissa McArthur has been one of four councillors on the Pheasant Rump First Nation since she was elected in 2011.

She has made no secret of how she feels about the chief's criminal conviction. "It's embarrassing. He should have stepped down long ago," she said.

That opinion has put her at odds with the chief and other councillors. Last week she received a letter from them notifying her that she has been fired as director of the band's Head Start program and has been removed as a cheque signer and representative of the band.

She was also told she will no longer receive her council salary.

"However, a remuneration of $1.00 per year be given to her until the end of her elected term," the letter concludes.

The chief and councillors cite political activism and allowing CBC into the band's daycare as reasons for this action.

"I guess it's bullying. It's really bullying," Clarissa McArthur said.

"I don't believe this man should be sitting here in this power because of what he did. I'm an advocate against it and they all know it."

The Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation, in southeast Saskatchewan, is in turmoil because the band's chief has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenage girl on the reserve.

On May 1, Chief Terrance McArthur pleaded guilty to the charge in a Carlyle courtroom, admitting he touched the girl in an inappropriate way in April 2012.

Weeks after that plea, McArthur, who was elected in 2011, remains in office.

That is raising serious concerns for people in the community of fewer than 200 people, including Julie Kakakaway, who runs the band's health clinic.

"Out of respect for our community, because he's in an elected position, he should have that respect and step down," Kakakaway said.

"We have to gather together and stand as one and say 'Hey, we're not going to let this happen.'"

According to the band's election regulations, a chief must resign if "the member is convicted of an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada."

In this instance, the Crown is proceeding by summary conviction — reserved for less serious cases — and so, technically, the chief is not required to resign.

But that is not quelling concerns on the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation.

Chief works near daycare

The band's daycare is a particular source of concern for many people in the community.

It is located just downstairs from the band office where the chief continues to work.

Candace McArthur, who runs the daycare, says she and her staff have to get criminal record checks in order to work there and she wonders why the chief doesn't have to do the same.

"My main concern is for the safety of the children," she explains, "And for me I feel that if I do not speak up or do anything for them, I'm not fulfilling my duties to the parents or the children."

A few days after she was interviewed by CBC News, McArthur said she was disciplined by the chief and council for speaking with the media.

McArthur said her pay was reduced by $270. The cook at the daycare also had her pay docked, McArthur said.

Another Pheasant Rump band member, Ira McArthur, said there's a culture of intimidation and fear on the reserve which makes band members afraid to speak up in situations like this.

"They're scared to have their names attached to any statement that's going to possibly cost them their job, their social assistance benefits, their housing benefits, anything like that," he said.

"The power that a chief and council holds over such a small community as ours is really huge and it's very, very scary," McArthur added.

Teenage victim fled from reserve

The mother of the teenage victim said after the assault was reported to police, she and her family experienced extreme harassment.

"We came home from a pow-wow, all of us, and there was a dead dog on our doorstep. There was sugar poured into my vehicle and it was vandalized. So there was a lot of concern for our safety."

The sexual abuse had serious effects on the victim, who by law, can't be identified.

"From that point it seemed like her attitude started changing," her mother said.

"Her demeanour started changing. Her grades rapidly started dropping. She's tried to commit suicide. But it was really superficial, more of 'I need help' signs."

All of the pressure on the family caused the mother to make a tough decision.

"Fleeing from there was the only option that I had to make sure the children and I were safe."

She says it's frustrating that the victim has to leave and the perpetrator gets to remain in office.

The chief and the other councillors declined an interview with CBC.

Chief McArthur will be sentenced in a Carlyle court on Wednesday, May 22.

(Geoff Leo)