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Fort Smith band in political crisis
Judith Gale not accepting dismissal, alleges special meeting called illegally

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 6, 2013

Three band councillors with Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith have been removed from office, or have they?

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Frieda Martselos: Chief of Salt River First Nation called special meeting April 29 to oust three councillors.

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

However, the three councillors are not accepting the dismissal.

"We all are still councillors and we all are going to fight against this," said Gale, who claims she and the other two councillors have the support of membership.

They have called their own special membership meeting for May 13 at Roaring Rapids Hall, beginning at 6 p.m.

Gale said the membership will be informed of the problems the council has had with Martselos since her election as chief in early April.

"And we're hoping to get a vote of non-confidence and get her out," Gale said, adding that means Martselos would be removed as chief.

The councillor (or former councillor) does not mince words in describing Martselos' leadership style, calling it a dictatorship and autocratic.

"It's just unbelievable," she said.

Gale claimed that, after Martselos was sworn in as chief on April 3, she started dictating to council and attempted to take control of all band affairs.

As for why the chief sought to remove the three councillors, Gale said the

only possible reason she can think of is they refuse to stop asking questions about band spending.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to contact Martselos and ask her about the reputed removal of the councillors.

However, some of her thinking might be gleaned from a notice she had posted in the community a few days prior to the April 29 meeting.

The notice stated that, according to Section 153 of Salt River's customary election regulations, a chief or councillor may be removed from office for failing to act in accordance with the rules of conduct and conflict of interest provisions.

It continued that the customary election regulations also state, "If the chief alone determines that there are sufficient grounds under Section 153 for the removal of a councillor, the chief may at that time call a special meeting of electors for that purpose. The notice of meeting shall set out the recommendation of the chief to remove the councillor from office and shall set out the grounds on which such recommendation is being made."

The notice added Martselos had determined there were sufficient grounds to remove the councillors and recommended that the electors do so.

Gale said the meeting was illegally called, explaining it didn't have the required notice of 14 days.

She said Martselos called the April 29 membership meeting after the chief had been invited to a council meeting - also set for April 29, but at 7 p.m. - to discuss the issues between the two sides.

"We woke up on Saturday morning (April 27) and there's posters plastered all over town saying that she's calling a special meeting on April 29 at 6 p.m.," Gale said. "So she superseded our meeting by an hour."

According to Gale, it is believed 46 band members attended the meeting and all voted to oust the councillors, although she claimed the meeting mainly consisted of Martselos' friends and relatives.

As of the middle of last week, it was unclear if Salt River planned to hold a byelection to replace the three councillors. The most recent byelection was on April 2 when Martselos was elected chief and a vacancy on council was filled.

She was previously the leader of the band, but resigned in September 2011 after four tumultuous years as chief.

The next election for the band is scheduled for September 2014.

At that time, a

chief will be elected and all six seats on council will be filled.

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