An ongoing battle between the Salt River First Nation band council and its ousted chief has intensified after a federal court issued an order barring supporters of Frieda Martselos from the band office in Fort Smith, N.W.T.
A court injunction, issued last week, bans more than 40 of Martselos's supporters from coming to the band office unless an election or general meeting is taking place.
"The purpose for it was to keep these people away, like Frieda's supporters, and Frieda," said acting chief Mike Beaver, whose council sought the injunction after Martselos held a sit-in in the office last month.
"To do our business, we need this office. And having them around here, we can't do anything because the staff feels threatened."
The council passed a resolution May 7 firing Martselos, just a week after shewas elected. Councillors listed 21 actions taken by Martselos that they alleged were improper, from firing staff and contractors without council's permission to blocking normal band business.
Martselos began her sit-in that evening. She and her supporters occupied the band office until May 15, when they voted in a special meeting to oust the council and reinstate her as chief. However, Beaver said the vote results were not valid.
Beaver and the band council have asked the federal court to uphold Martselos's removal, while Martselos is asking the court to reaffirm her as chief. It could take six months before the case is heard.
Martselos has declined to speak to reporters, but a recent news release alleges that the current council has been spending land claim money without proper authorization — something her brothersaid is being done again, this time in the courts.
"They're playing with all the money that's put aside for us as members and use it to keep the people out that want to correct things with what's going wrong with the band here," Ken Laviolette said. "There has to be a recourse of how they can settle these problems."
But Beaver said a July 6 election for a new chief and one band councillor may help clear the air in the dispute, which has divided band members in the southern Northwest Territories community.
"We're here for the people, and I hope they understand that," Beaver said.
Laviolette predicted that the results of the new election will also get tied up in the court battle.