Salt River chief Frieda Martselos won’t back down

Forty-two members of the Salt River First Nation voted in favour of ousting chief Frieda Martselos Tuesday night, but Martselos says the vote was illegal, and so was another vote held to oust her just two weeks ago.

Several dozen members of the Salt River First Nation voted to remove Chief Frieda Martselos at a meeting in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Tuesday night.

It was the latest move in an ongoing battle to oust the chief, led by band councillor George Cumming.

But Martselos, and the band’s legal counsel, say the vote means nothing.

Last night’s vote was a follow-up to an earlier attempt to oust the chief.

At a band council meeting on Dec. 29, Cumming brought forward a motion of non-confidence against Martselos. He says three council members voted in favour of the motion and two abstained.

Cumming says it was all above board.

"I made the motion, it was passed. As far as I'm concerned, it was all legal... [Martselos] can say whatever she wants."

But both Martselos and the band’s legal counsel say the non-confidence motion was illegal.

Martselos says Cumming asked her, and her brother, another band councillor, to leave the meeting for the vote, saying it was a conflict of interest.

"The legal opinion says that it was a political issue,” Martselos says. “It wasn't a conflict of interest issue and for that reason all members of council should have been present including myself so I could defend the issue that I was bringing up.”

After that vote, band councillors voted to suspend Cumming for 30 days - a move that Cumming says has no legal grounds.

"There's nowhere in the Election Code that says a chief or council can suspend a councillor," Cumming says.

Being suspended from council didn’t stop Cumming from holding a meeting with band members last night, where he sought to gain approval to uphold the Dec. 29 decision to oust the chief.

All 42 band members who came to that meeting voted in favour of ousting Martselos.

After the vote, about half of the members walked to the band office, where the council was holding a meeting, to deliver the results.

They found the doors locked.

"She locked us out,” Cumming said. “People were mad, people were going around the building knocking on the windows, trying to get her attention. They would not acknowledge us at all."

Martselos says it was a regular council meeting, and a quorum of council decided it would be closed to the public.

Needless to say, Martselos doesn't accept the results of the vote taken last night and for now, the conflict continues.

“One suspended councillor cannot call a meeting to remove someone from office that's been elected by the people,” Martselos said.

She says she will continue to show up to work at the First Nation.

But Cumming will also continue to fight.

"It's not her own business, this belongs to the Nation,” Cumming says. “She's got to start working for the Nation, not for herself.”