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Salt River chief, council reject ousted councillors' meeting
Non-confidence vote to remove Martselos planned for May 13 gathering

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 13, 2013

The chief and three remaining councillors of Salt River First Nation (SRFN) in Fort Smith are dismissing a special membership meeting called by three ousted members of band council.

The meeting is set for May 13 with the stated goal of obtaining a vote of non-confidence in Chief Frieda Martselos and removing her from leadership.

However, Martselos and the remaining councillors stated their position on the May 13 meeting in a full-page ad in the May 6 edition of News/North.

"This so-called 'special membership meeting' has no legal status under Salt River First Nation law," the ad stated. "Particularly, it has no legal status under the Amended Customary Election Regulations and anyone who may choose to attend such a meeting has no legal power to censure, or remove Chief Martselos from office."

Three band councillors - Joline Beaver, Connie Benwell and Judith Gale - were voted out of office at an April 29 special membership meeting called by Martselos.

Benwell had not read the full-page ad from SRFN as of May 7, but noted it may have been the same letter that Martselos sent out to the band membership.

"I'm kind of tired of reading the stuff that she puts out because it's all nonsense," Benwell said.

As for the statement that the May 13 meeting would be illegal, the ousted councillor countered that the April 29 meeting was illegal.

"She held the meeting without a quorum of council," Benwell said of Martselos. "She only gave the council two days' notice in writing and that's supposed to be 14 days notice for such a meeting. She brought in family members from down south and stacked the band office with her supporters."

The statement claimed the electors at the meeting were not just from one family, but represented a cross-section of families and the whole membership.

Yellowknife's Noeline Villebrun, a member of Salt River First Nation and a former national chief of the Dene Nation, is one band member not happy with the way the April 29 meeting was handled.

Villebrun believes that not everyone was informed of the special meeting, especially band members living outside Fort Smith. She noted that, in her own family, five people were not informed.

"She's a one-person show," Villebrun said of Martselos. "Unfortunately, she's not a leader, she's not a chief. All she's doing is continually dividing the people and asserting her will, not the will of the people."

The SRFN's statement noted the April 29 meeting was called by Martselos.

"It is the chief's undoubted right under Section 155 of the Amended Customary Election Regulations, which expressly says that 'the chief may at any time call a Special Meeting of Electors' and that 'the chief alone' may do this," the statement reads, adding the chief does not have to give 14 days notice.

The SRFN statement in News/North said there were 50 band members at the April 29 meeting, while Benwell said 47 people attended.

"That number doesn't represent our nation," Benwell said. "We have 890 members who have a say and they weren't asked."

The ousted councillor also noted that the April 2 by-election that elected Martselos and Coun. Don Matthews Jr. is being appealed by one of the candidates for chief, Henry Beaver Jr., who had concerns about the way the election was conducted by the electoral officer. If the appeal is upheld, it is possible another byelection may be required for the chief's position and the one council seat, she said.

"So everything that she is doing right now will be null and void, including the ousting," Benwell said.

She said she and the other two councillors were ousted on "petty little things" and there's no appeal process.

Benwell said the three councillors were ousted because they were asking questions about band spending.

"It's not to accuse anybody," she said. "It's just so the finger pointing can stop and we can find out where all this money went, because it's a lot of money. We're talking millions of dollars."

The SRFN statement noted the three councillors were ousted for breaching rules of conduct and conflict of interest provisions.

It also stated the three vacancies on band council will be filled by a byelection within the next 90 days.

The next general election for the band is scheduled for September 2014. At that time, a chief is to be elected and all six seats on council are to be filled.

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