Salt River First Nation’s acting chief facing a charge, and a salary raise

By Liny Lamberink · CBC News · Mar 31, 2023 (Used with Permission.)

A man who has been appointed acting chief of the Salt River First Nation in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is facing an assault charge — and he’s expected to be paid a salary that’s $26,000 more than the chief was paid in 2022.

Brad Laviolette, 41, is charged with assault in Fort Smith on April 3, 2022. He’s scheduled to appear in territorial court on April 14.

Laviolette acknowledged the charge against him on Monday, but did not want to speak to CBC News about it — other than to say he’s innocent — because the matter is before the courts. 

According to the First Nation’s proposed budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, obtained by CBC News, the chief is projected to be paid $130,000. A previous chief, David Poitras, was paid $104,000 in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, according to an audit also obtained by CBC News. 

Laviolette didn’t want to speak to CBC News about the salary increase either, but did say that he brought it to a membership meeting. 

The First Nation signed a treaty settlement agreement with the federal government in 2002. Under it, the First Nation received $83 million dollars and 414 square kilometres of land to establish a reserve.

Ongoing turmoil has ‘got to stop’

Laviolette’s appointment as acting chief is part of the latest chapter in the Salt River First Nation’s long history of inner political turmoil. 

Toni Heron was elected chief of the community on Sept. 19. Less than a month later, on Oct. 13, Heron said Laviolette and Kendra Bourke — both acclaimed as councillors — called a council meeting and suspended Heron from her new role for 60 days. Laviolette was appointed acting chief.

A head shot of a woman with dark medium length hair and glasses.
Toni Heron was elected chief of Salt River First Nation in September 2022, but less than a month into the role she was suspended by band councillors. She said she’s taking the dispute to an Alberta court. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Heron convened her own special membership meeting on Oct. 23 in which members voted to remove Laviolette and Bourke as councillors. Heron, in turn, has been slapped with two more consecutive 60-day suspensions, and hasn’t been able to fill the role of chief since October.

The first time she was suspended, Heron said she was given a band council resolution that listed things she’d allegedly failed to do in her first month as chief. One of those items, she said, was to sign a contract for the construction of a fire centre. 

“I was supposed to sign the contract, but I did not see the contract. I asked to see the contract, I asked for information from them, and I was not given any information. I was not given any kind of written proposal,” she said. 

“According to our Salt River election code, it states in there that the membership has to be aware of any financial matters and if it was a contract, then I assume it had to be in the millions of dollars, which I’m not sure, because I’ve not seen it.” 

Heron said she’s taken the dispute to an Alberta court. 

“It’s very frustrating to the members,” said Heron. “There’s things they would like to see besides continually taking their own members to court. I mean, Salt River First Nation has spent millions of dollars taking their own members to court.”

The First Nation has often elected officials only to have them immediately removed. This is usually followed by an appeal process through the court system.

Between 2002 and 2014, every band council election was followed by several resignations or a band council motion to remove or suspend the chief or other members of council.

“It’s got to stop somewhere,” said Heron.


Liny Lamberink , Reporter / Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She can be reached at