On Friday, Rose Poker and Agathe Rich received written warnings.
By the end of the day, both women had been fired from their jobs at the women’s shelter in Natuashish.
“This dismissal is due to your political behaviour contrary to the interest of the elected chief and council,” the letter to Poker stated, adding that the order for dismissal came from Chief Simeon Tshakapesh.
Poker doesn’t feel she did anything wrong.
The letters stem from a petition that Poker, Rich and Clarence Nui were circulating outside of office hours in Natuashish last week. The petition was protesting a proposal by Tshakapesh and Sheshatshiu Chief Sebastien Benuen to ask the band councils’ board of trustees for permission to remove $25 million from a trust fund established for the communities’ children.
The chiefs said the money was badly needed to complete housing and infrastructure projects.
Nui was given a warning letter by the band council’s lawyer and was told that if his political involvement continued, he would be dismissed from his band council position of tribal policeman.
Nui has held the job for nearly 16 years.
He’s not sure why he wasn’t been fired like Poker and Rich.
Neither of the three regrets circulating the petition.
“I’ve got kids,” Nui said. “I have to think about their future, too.”
The chiefs have since backed down on their request for the money. Council member Andrew Penashue made the announcement on the Sheshatshiu radio station Monday.
Poker and Rich intend to fight to get their jobs back.
Poker is a single mother of two, who was also financially supporting her oldest daughter, who is also a single mother.
Poker and Rich are sending their letters of dismissal to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
According to human rights laws, a person cannot be legitimately dismissed from their jobs for expressing political opinion.
The band council is the main employer in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish and operates the women’s shelter, the school and the grocery store.
In addition to circulating the petition, Nui, Rich and Poker tried to explain to the public about the proposal to remove money from the trust fund last week but were not permitted to speak on the local radio station, which is also run by the band council.
Prote Poker, a former band council chief, runs a second community radio station and he allowed the trio to go on the air.
Rose Poker said this is not the first time the chief has disciplined people who have opposed his political decisions.
Late last year, Judith Rich was suspended from her position as an addictions treatment counsellor at the Healing Lodge after she raised a banner at her house demanding that a drug dealer be removed from the community.
She was later reinstated but is now on stress leave.
Her sister was fired from her position as treatment counsellor.
Tshakapesh is in Ottawa this week for meetings and could not be reached for comment. Nor could Benuen.
Tshakapesh, however, did contact VOCM’s “Nightline” Tuesday night and contended the petitioners were trying to stop the healing in the community.
“I’m very surprised that the same people who raised the issue of solvent abuse won’t let us use the money,” he said.
Some members of the communities are concerned with the chiefs’ spending priorities.
On his Facebook page, Tshakapesh says he distributed $5,000 to Natuashish residents and “$3,500 not long after.”
A total of $5.5 million has been given to community members since Tshakapesh became chief early last year.
He has also arranged for WWE wrestlers to come to Natuashish to perform and has agreed to take four local youth and chaperones to Toronto to see wrestling.