Northern News Services
Monday, June 4, 2007
SALT RIVER - It appears the Salt River First Nation (SRFN) leadership dispute has calmed down a little as it moves to a new arena - the courtroom.
On May 25, the band council - the one that removed Chief Frieda Martselos from office on May 7 after she had been in office just a week - sought a court injunction against her and her supporters to keep them away from the band office, which they had previously occupied in protest of her dismissal.
Mike Beaver: pictured here in front of the Salt River First Nation, says he has no intention to seek election as chief. He was among four other councillors who voted to remove newly elected chief Frieda Martselos.
"It's mostly to keep Frieda and her crew out of here," said Acting Chief Mike Beaver, a member of the council which ousted Martselos.
The Federal Court of Canada issued the order after a hearing in Vancouver.
Through her lawyers prior to the hearing, Martselos agreed that, until her application for reinstatement as chief is heard by the Federal Court or until the court orders otherwise, she would:
• not go to the band office, except on legitimate band business;
• not present herself as chief to financial institutions or to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, or sign any contracts on behalf of council;
• not contact the media as chief of SRFN, although she may respond to any allegations made by council.
The Federal Court also ordered Martselos' supporters, including over 40 personally named in the injunction, to stay away from the band office, unless approved by council or to attend a legitimate band meeting, election or by-election.
Beaver said the injunction will be in place until June 14, at which time it might be renewed.
"We need these people to come to their senses before we can talk to them again," he said.
In response to Martselos' application for reinstatement, council filed an application for the Federal Court to declare she was properly removed from office.
When contacted for comment, Martselos referred News/North to a detailed news release written with the assistance of her lawyers.
"I do not believe that council's termination of my position was right or fair," she stated in the release.
Martselos - the wife of Fort Smith Mayor Peter Martselos - said it is a great honour to be chief and she takes the role very seriously.
"My intention is to continue to act as chief of Salt River First Nation, to have the Federal Court confirm by position as chief, and to take such steps as to make our council accountable to its members," she stated.
Her application to the court for reinstatement will argue that council did not have jurisdiction under SRFN's customary election regulations to remove her under the grounds stated in the band council resolution, and those grounds were "grossly" inaccurate.
In its resolution removing Martselos, council listed 21 articles of impeachment, such as acting in an autocratic manner, terminating the band's financial officer and auditors, changing locks, and removing or authorizing the removal of financial and other records from the band office.
The council has called a by-election for July 6 to find a replacement for Martselos and to fill a vacancy on council.
Nominations close June 8.
On May 15, another by-election acclaimed Delphine Beaulieu to council.
Beaver said he has no intention to run to become chief.
"I'm a councillor. That's all I wanted to be," he said, although he added he might run for chief sometime in the future.
The SRFN band office re-opened for business on May 29.
Beaver said it's going to take a little time for the operation to get back to normal after the sit-in by Martselos and her supporters from May 7-15.
There was no significant damage to the building, except for a picture on the wall. The images of councillors who voted to oust Martselos had been scratched out and beards drawn on their faces.
"How childish could people be to do stuff like that?" Beaver wondered.
At a May 15 membership meeting called by Martselos, supporters re-reaffirmed her as chief, voted to terminate the existing council and elected an interim council.