Grounded: Fort Smith Chief is banned from Tim Hortons
A sign posted on Fort Smith’s joint Petro-Canada and Tim Hortons building bars Chief Frieda Martselos and her sister Judy Laviolette from the premises.
The franchises are owned by Salt River First Nation, of which Martselos is currently chief.
Salt River members said the order, apparently signed by four or five of the six elected members listed on Salt River’s website, was sparked by Martselos’ failure to involve council in approving important decisions.
When Cabin Radio went to the gas station late in the evening on Wednesday, a handful of people were out taking photos of the poster, or joking they should be in the photos giving a “thumbs up.”
While Martselos was instrumental in bringing a second Tim Hortons (at the time) to the territory and getting the First Nation’s finances straightened out, her terms have not been without conflict.
According to Martselos. the current dispute arose after she questioned what she claims are inflated invoices paid out by the First Nation’s council.
“If I question payments that are unethical, is this the way they are going to deal with me?” Martselos asked, adding she believes the council is not allowed to put the sign up.
“I don’t do anything wrong, I’ve always been above board,” she told Cabin Radio. “Those people that are approving unethical finances … they’re the ones that have to deal with it. They don’t have to target me because I brought it up.
“It’s not a news story for me, it’s making sure things are done right at Salt River. I’m ethical, I’m honest, and I’m transparent. And everybody knows that.”
Cabin Radio has as yet seen no evidence to support allegations of unethical payments. Only one member of the First Nation’s council could be immediately reached – Ray Tourangeau, who said he did not sign his name on the poster.
“I don’t want to make a comment on [the poster],” said Tourangeau. “I don’t know about it; it happened after five, so I was home.”
The Salt River First Nation office appears to be closed until January.
A rocky relationship
In January 2014, CBC reported “several dozen members” voted to oust Martselos from the top position.
This followed a motion of no confidence in December 2013, when then-councillor George Cumming said three council members voted in favour to remove her while two abstained.
Cumming was then suspended. Both Martselos and Cumming said the others’ actions were illegal.
In 2011, Martselos left the position for 18 months for what she says are similar reasons to the current conflict.
“I feel the same thing is happening all over again,” she said this week.