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Amid conflict, two new Salt River councillors named

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Warren Gagnon and Warren Sikyea are to join Salt River First Nation's council, months after three councillors left their positions amid continued conflict.

Councillors Ronnie Schaefer, Freda Emile, and Patricia (Patsy) Schaefer were reported to have resigned in late January.

Just over a month prior, the councillors’ signatures had appeared on a sign attempting to ban Chief Frieda Martselos from the First Nation’s Tim Hortons franchise.

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The resignations left Raymond Tourangeau, Melvin Fortier, and Chris Hunter as the remaining councillors.

Hunter, too, risked losing his seat on council as he faced assault charges. He subsequently reached a plea bargain with the Crown.

Salt River is set to hold an election for all council positions in September 2019.

“I ran because this is a good training opportunity for the next five months,” said Gagnon, one of the new councillors.

“If I like it, I'm going to proceed into the next election. We'll see how this spring goes.

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“Just because there is conflict, the government must go on,” he said, acknowledging a history of strained relationships among council members.

“We can't let our systems fall apart. We've accomplished quite a bit in the last 10 years under a few of the chiefs here, particularly Chief Frieda, and I'd like to see that continue.”

Gagnon said he and Sikyea are set to be sworn in next Tuesday, April 22.

Plea bargain

Earlier this year, as plans for a by-election were made, Cllr Hunter faced charges including assault and uttering threats.

According to Salt River’s election code, councillors are deemed to have resigned immediately if they are convicted of an indictable offence.

“In a recent case, a councillor reached a plea bargain arrangement with the Crown that included a probation order,” wrote the First Nation in a March 22 statement.

As Hunter was discharged on the conditions set out in the order, he was not convicted of the offence and remains on council, the First Nation said.

Two nominations

It is not clear if the First Nation still plans to fill its one vacant council seat or if the seat will remain empty until this fall's election.

Only members continuously living within 100 km of Fort Smith or the First Nation’s reserve for the past year were eligible to run in the by-election.

According to documents seen by Cabin Radio, this formed a point of contention for some members who live outside the community and felt they could participate in their Nation's governance via video conference.

At the closing time for nominations, only two had been filed for the three outstanding positions.

The returning officer, Lynda Martin, then issued a notice stating: “Nominations will cease when sufficient acceptable nominations are filed or at 5pm on April 2, 2019 – whichever comes sooner.”

Martin told Cabin Radio she could not comment on the election results, and whether a candidate could yet come forward to fill the vacancy.

Frieda Martselos, Chief of the Salt River First Nation, declined to comment for this report and expressed a preference never to be contacted again.