Martselos reinstated as Salt River chief after Federal Court ruling

Frieda Martselos, who was ousted last year as chief of the Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is chief once again as a result of a Federal Court ruling.

Frieda Martselos, who was ousted last year as chief of the Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is chief once again as a result of a Federal Court ruling.

In a decision released Tuesday, the court dismissed a resolution from a group of band councillors in May to remove her from office. Martselos had been chief for only a week when the council fired her.

The May 7 firing prompted Martselos and her supporters to stage a sit-in that lasted about a week. When she would not leave the office, councillors obtained an injunction to keep her out of the chief's job until the court's judicial review was completed.

Federal Court Judge Michel Beaudry observed that "political tensions were very high during the week" Martselos held office. During that time, she removed the band's sub-chief, fired its financial officer and sent financial records to Edmonton for an audit. She refused to meet with band councillors and had the locks changed at the band office, the decision stated.

Councillors reacted by voting to remove her as chief, citing 21 reasons that mostly cited what they called her "autocratic" manner of governing.

Beaudry ruled that both Martselos and council "acted in such a way as to escalate the tensions," adding that Martselos's actions showed she "has surely misinterpreted her functions as chief," thus creating confusion and stress among council.

At the same time, Beaudry said he did not think Martselos failed in her duty to run the First Nation within her one-week tenure. She did not have a chance to create a competent and stable administration during that time, he added.

"It is best that the voice of the electorate be respected and that the election process be given a chance to take effect. It is difficult to conceive that the applicant [Martselos] had a chance to fulfil her mandate within a week," he wrote.

"It is my opinion that there were insufficient grounds for removing the applicant from the office of the chief so soon following her election."

In addition to being reinstated, Martselos is also eligible for back pay from the time of her election on April 30.

Fort Smith is on the N.W.T.-Alberta border, about 300 kilometres south of Yellowknife.