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Poitras elected Salt River chief

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 12, 2011

Salt River First Nation has a new chief.

David Poitras was the top vote-getter among three candidates in a Dec. 6 byelection to choose a leader for the Fort Smith-based band.

Poitras collected 119 votes, compared to 92 for band Coun. Connie Benwell and 75 for Henry Beaver, a former chief.

"I'm excited and, at the same time, I know it's going to be a lot of work," Poitras said on election night, while at his home accepting congratulations from visitors.

The election win was third time lucky for Poitras, who lost in the band's previous two elections for chief to Frieda Martselos, whose resignation in early September resulted in the Dec. 6 byelection.

"I came close twice," Poitras said. "I'm really pleased this time that the campaign was successful and I think having a three-way split helped, too."

The new chief explained many people supported him because they want to see what he can accomplish as chief.

"I think that's probably part of it," he said. "I ran twice and didn't make it the first two times, and this time, they said, 'Well, let's see what he can do.' Some people actually told me that."

Band members also want change, he said. "They want the chief and council to treat everyone the same."

Poitras said he feels good about the election results, although he admitted the campaign was tiring and stressful.

In fact, he noted he hardly slept the night before the by-election.

"I was pretty stressed out," he said. "After the last two elections and coming so close, I was really worried."

The new chief said he will work with the council and the people to make short-term and long-term plans for Salt River First Nation.

"We don't have a vision statement. We don't have a mission statement," he noted. "We don't have any real goals and objectives set, and I think, if we can accomplish that, that's going to be a big step."

In addition, he said he will work towards creating educational opportunities and improving housing.

The new chief will complete the less than one year remaining of Martselos's term.

An election expected for September of next year will be for the positions of chief and all six band councillors.

Poitras served as a councillor and as sub-chief in the late 1980s, and was band manager several years ago.

The 67-year-old is retired from a long career as a community development worker, which included nine years managing the alcohol and drug program in Fort Smith and several years managing the culture program at Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre on the Hay River Reserve.

Beaver, the third-place finisher in the byelection, dropped by Poitras' home on election night to offer congratulations to the new chief.

"I feel happy with Dave," Beaver said. "I think that it was a good campaign. There was no dirty stuff out there. Everything was run clean."

Beaver, who took a leave of absence from his job as project manager for Salt River in order to run for chief, has returned to that job.

As for what made the difference in the byelection, he said, "Some of us worked harder than others. I think that's the key for the results."

Poitras said he worked hard for votes, going door-to-door and even travelling to Edmonton.

Plus, he gained support of people voting through mail-in ballots.

"I think that's where I got a pretty good majority," he said.

That support was obtained by telephone calls, e-mails and many late nights on Facebook.

"I started out with maybe 90 friends, and I ended up with about 380," Poitras said, referring to his number of contacts on Facebook. "So I was on there quite a bit."

Benwell, who placed second in voting, is looking forward to working with Poitras as the new chief.

She noted Poitras said he hopes to stop infighting at Salt River.

"I hope that he can accomplish that," she said.

Poitras said it was a good, friendly campaign by the three candidates.

"We all made an effort to show people that we're going to get along and we're going to work together," he said.

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