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Salt River chief steps down following tumultuous career

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 5, 2011

Frieda Martselos, the chief of Fort Smith's Salt River First Nation (SRFN), has offered an explanation of her planned resignation later this week.

In an Aug. 23 letter submitted to band council, Martselos wrote that the past few months have been a challenge.

"Personally, I feel council is not working together to strive for greater things to benefit all members equally," she stated.

Martselos will be resigning on Sept. 9.

She first announced her intentions at a band council meeting on Aug. 9, but did not offer any reason at that time.

In her resignation letter, she wrote that process must be followed, policies must be implemented, the election code is of utmost importance, and following council's code of conduct and ethics are extremely important to her leadership beliefs.

"Currently, I feel this has not been my experience," she stated. "These have been trying times and personally I do not support some of the decisions being made."

Martselos did not elaborate on the council decisions with which she disagreed.

"As a leader of Salt River First Nation I will not compromise my code of ethics, my beliefs, my honesty and my integrity," she continued. "Most leaders know when it's time to leave and to leave without any regrets or bitterness. I will always stand by doing the right thing, I firmly believe that time is now to move on to new ventures."

Martselos added she is resigning as chief with mixed feelings.

"I hope the membership will move forward to the development of the reserve," she concluded. "I wish each and every member of Salt River First Nation the very best. It was an honour to be your leader for the past four years. I will always cherish and appreciate the experience you as members gave me."

A byelection will be called by band council to choose someone to complete the little more than a year remaining in Martselos' term.

"They have to call a byelection within 14 days of her resignation, which means we've got until Sept. 23, and then the byelection must be held within 90 days," said John Carter, chief executive officer with SRFN.

Carter noted there is a provision in the band's customary election code for the appointment of an acting chief until the byelection is held.

A byelection would not have been required if there had been fewer than nine months remaining in Martselos' term of office.

Martselos was first elected chief in a byelection in April of 2007. She was ousted by band council a week later because of what was described as an autocratic nature, but a court reinstated her as chief in early 2008.

Martselos was re-elected chief in August 2008.

However, the losing candidate for chief in that election appealed the result and the elections of Martselos and three councillors were overturned.

In June 2009, Martselos was once again elected chief.

In her resignation letter, Martselos summarized her four years as chief.

Among the band's accomplishments in that time, she listed creating "strong, trusting" relationships with all levels of government; building a homeless shelter; developing a governance structure and an election code that protects band money; developing an employee policy manual, code of ethics and conduct for chief and council, and a privacy policy; purchasing commercial land in downtown Fort Smith; and investing in a hall and guest house at Salt River Reserve.

"We held true to our election platform of accountability, transparency and open door policy," she wrote. "This was a very productive and exciting time at Salt River First Nation."

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