NWT Election 2019: Frieda Martselos’ Thebacha interview
Former Salt River First Nation chief Frieda Martselos is hoping to be the Thebacha district’s next MLA.
Martselos championed her extensive experience in business and wants to take that into territorial leadership, saying, “Everything should be done business-wise.”
Her platform leads off on keeping Aurora College’s headquarters in Fort Smith, maximizing the benefits of the Taltson hydro project in her community, and supporting the road south through Wood Buffalo National Park.
She would also like to rebuild the narrowed airport runway, open a daycare in town, and build a territorial addictions centre in Fort Smith.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast.
More information: Frieda Martselos’ Facebook page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 4, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: You’ve been chief of Salt River First Nation for a number of years now. Would you like to highlight some of the things you accomplished as chief?
Frieda Martselos: Well, I have a lot of accomplishments as the chief of Salt River. Having the only Petro Canada full-service station in the Northwest Territories is an accomplishment in itself, because nowhere else in our territory do we have a full-service Petro Canada station with all the points and everything in place.
The only Tim Hortons outside of Yellowknife, that’s a big accomplishment.
The new building has the only standalone conference centre. And it also could be a concert hall because of the acoustics that are built into the new building in the downtown core. It’s the most beautiful building in Northwest Territories.
I’ve also accomplished a lot with the social aspect of my leadership. My social aspect of my leadership is helping people get healthy, mental illness, nutrition – all the things that are compassionate to my leadership and will continue to be.
I just want to expand on the the nutrition and healthcare that you mentioned there. I know those are issues that people across the North are facing. What have you done in Fort Smith for that?
Well, we had the homeless shelter. I had Poundmaker’s Lodge come in to do three sessions of an on-the-land addiction program for the community of Fort Smith, and that includes everybody in the community. There is no “only Salt River” or “only Métis” or “only this” – it was inclusive.
Everything I’ve done in my leadership has been inclusive. All members of the community are welcome to participate and so really, I was a community leader already, not only for Salt River.
I was looking through your pamphlet that you sent over. You’ve got quite the list of commitments. Do you want to run through some of the top ones?
Last night it was coincidental that I met the president of Aurora College while checking into the [Wood Buffalo] Inn. I was just going out on my door-to-door thing. I saw Tom [Weegar, the president] and I said to Tom, “Are you ready to move back to Fort Smith? Because the headquarters will not be leaving Fort Smith when I do become MLA for this riding of Thebacha.”
And I truly mean that – the headquarters will be staying in Fort Smith when I get elected. I’m very committed to the people of the college, especially the staff. And we have a lot of people that are extremely qualified at that college and that college should be staying in Fort Smith. This is the education centre of the North. Always was and always will be.
What else is on your platform?
I also want to make sure that the expansion of the Taltson hydro is beneficial to Fort Smith, because the Taltson is at our back doors, it borders our reserve lands. And I’m very committed to making sure that the people of Fort Smith benefit from this expansion.
We have to remember that it’s going to benefit many people in the Northwest Territories. Fort Smith never went and tried to get IBAs (impact benefit agreements) when the diamond mines were up in that area. We stayed out of the Akaitcho business at that time, even though we are part of the Akaitcho people. Salt River has reserve lands that are bordering the Taltson. I want to make sure that the community of Fort Smith benefits from this expansion.
I also have in there the alternate road to Garden River. A lot of our Indigenous people have relatives in Garden River and along that route. And it’s also extremely important that we all stick together as leaders, which we’ve done in the last month. We met together and we want this road through the park, not only for the beauty of the park and to see the park, but also for the fire smart program. And it’s another loop out in case there’s an emergency with Fort Smith, and it’s extremely important to the community of Fort Smith.
You also have prioritizing getting a daycare into the community on your list. That’s something I haven’t seen on anyone else’s platform yet. Why did you put that down, and how how do you propose working to get a daycare in the community?
We have a lot of students who come to the community, Sarah, and daycare is a problem. We have a lot of buildings in Fort Smith that have a bit of vacancy. There’s an economic situation all over the Northwest Territories that has to be improved and a lot of people that are either going to college or need sitters, and people that are in the workforce. That is part of the whole situation when it comes to a daycare, and I support that fully. I will help to make sure that we establish a daycare centre here in this community.
Kind of going hand-in-hand with daycare is affordable childcare.
I always feel that a daycare should be subsidized. There are different pots to draw from. I’m quite familiar with that with early childhood education and being a participant of a Head Start program here in Fort Smith. And also, I think that it’s achievable. And I think that with the right resources and the right people that everything is in reach. I never take no for an answer. And I’ve always been the type that when I put my mind to something, I make sure that I get results.
You also have restoring the airport runway on your list. I understand that work is supposed to be completed in the fall, the narrowing of the runway. What are your plans for restoring it?
I’m told in the meantime that they’re going to make sure that the jets are going to be able to come in and land and turn around on each end. To me that is an interim solution. I will fight to make sure that the airport is back to the way it was.
That was a dumb decision. Whoever made that decision to narrow the airport should have consulted not only under Section 35 [of the Constitution] but also the town council and the mayor and council before this kind of decision is made. They did not do that in Yellowknife, where they’re putting the same lights in. So we can’t treat one community different than the other. Consensus government has to be consensus government. What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. I truly believe that.
So would you be looking for funding to repave the hundred feet that have been dug up?
Just put it back right to how it was?
We should be getting some infrastructure money here in Fort Smith too. Many announcements all over the territory and especially in the larger centres, and especially Hay River and Yellowknife, and nothing for Fort Smith is unacceptable.
So what kinds of infrastructure projects would you like to see? I know we always hear about the big projects, like the big hydro project and the roads to some of the communities. What would you like to see in Fort Smith?
I also feel that one of the infrastructure necessities for the Northwest Territories is a full-service addiction centre. And I mean full-service, when you have a psychiatrist, a psychologist, the full team. A facility that is going to be the best in the Northwest Territories and better than Alberta.
I think that it should be situated here in Fort Smith. It should be away from the larger centre of Yellowknife and it should be here in Fort Smith. I’m quite familiar with many addiction centres, because I dealt with it for the 10 or 12 years that I’ve been at Salt River and it’s a major problem in every family, community, and throughout the Northwest Territories. And I will be fighting to make sure that the full-service addiction centre is situated in Fort Smith.
One other thing you had on your list was to create opportunities to encourage youth to return home. Can you expand on how you’re going to do that?
I’ve worked with youth since 1995. I have supported the travel club, supported the lunch programs at both schools, been a big advocate of education. And it’s extremely important that we have the economic stability and growth to ensure that our youth come back home and be our doctors, be our pilots, be our lawyers, be our tradespeople.
That’s why the college is a central point of the community of Fort Smith and always was. All the leaders that have been leaders in the past, and the future, have either been educated in Fort Smith or will continue to be educated in Fort Smith, and that’s what I’m going to be standing for: for the community to remain the education centre of the north and to make sure that the headquarters of Aurora College stays here in the community of Fort Smith.
I know there are some people in Yellowknife who think that the headquarters should be in Yellowknife. How will you have those discussions with those people if you’re in the legislature with them?
Well first I’ve got to get elected as MLA, that’s for another day.
And that’s a very long list of commitments that you have here. How are you going to prioritize what to do first? And how are you going to make sure that you get them all done in four years?
I’m a very hard worker, I’m a very dedicated person as you know, Sarah. My day starts at probably eight or seven in the morning, and I usually don’t get home until midnight.
I’m very thorough on delivery. I’m very thorough on hard work. And I’m very thorough on dedication. I’m very dedicated to my job and to the future of this community. I was born and raised here. Everything that I’ve done in small business and in businesses, throughout my years, has given me the opportunity to gain a lot of experience to ensure that the economic climate of this community stabilizes – not only for Fort Smith but for the Northwest Territories, and that will be part of my mandate.
Your last bullet point is accountability, transparency and an open-door policy. During your term as chief of Salt River, there has been a little bit of conflict and there are some people that would challenge that. What would you say about that?
I’m not at Salt River any more, you’ve got to remember that, I’m done. So I’d like to put that behind me. But I want to tell you something. Accountability is a very big term. Transparency is a very big term, OK. But you’ve got to practise it. Whether you want to or not, you have to be able to speak up when the time comes. And of course you’re going to get friction, because people don’t want to all be accountable. Many people don’t follow rules and when you make them follow rules, they all get mad. I’m OK with that because I am a very strong leader. I’m honest and sincere. I’m accountable and I’m transparent. And I have an open-door policy, no matter who opens the door to any office that I’ve been in, they’re all treated equally. And that’s my model. And I will continue to do that when I become the MLA for Thebacha.
Could you just expand on accountability and transparency when you were in office at Salt River? What did you do to show that you were holding yourself accountable and being transparent? What would you take with you to the MLA position?
All of my budgets were surplus, OK? All my budgets were surplus. I paid cash for the gas bars over here with Salt River. The Petro Canada and the Tim Hortons were paid with cash.
Everything I’ve done has been with a balanced budget. All my audits were clean. And I don’t have any problem.
I’m very much about financial stability and accountability because my whole life has been with business. I have never been with government, a very short time in my life that I worked with government. I have a strong business head with aspirations of economic growth.
There are people who are saying there needs to be more money toward healthcare or education and maybe a little less toward infrastructure. Do you have any opinion on that?
Sometimes it’s not about money for allocations of more for this or more for that. It’s how you deliver the program that has to be assessed sometime. Because sometimes the bureaucracy takes over and it’s over. Everything should be done business-wise. And I think that leadership is extremely important to give direction, and not so much listening to bureaucracy.
And final question, why should people vote for you? What’s your pitch?
Well, I’m very compassionate. I’m a strong leader, I’m a proven leader, I get results. I’m well-rounded. I have a lot of business experience. I am very much about economic balanced growth. I’m very much about ensuring that the little guy is listened to.
I’m very much involved in this community. I do a lot of volunteer work within the community, especially with the schools and education, because if you don’t have an education, you have nothing. I clearly believe that. And I want to make sure that the community of Fort Smith thrives.
I think that we’re being forgotten a little bit and I don’t want that to happen in the future because I love this community. I was born here. I was raised here. I was educated here. I spent all our money here. We invested in this community, and the people of this community are amazing.