AMC suspends grand chief Dumas amid sex assault allegation
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/03/2022 (261 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s top Indigenous leader has been suspended, amid multiple investigations prompted by a female co-worker’s allegation of sexual assault.
The Winnipeg Police Service and external lawyers are investigating the claims against Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who’s faced calls to step down.
The woman made a complaint to the WPS sex crimes unit, and, on Monday, formally notified the AMC executive council of chiefs Dumas allegedly subjected her to “harassment, sexual harassment, and sexualized violence.”
The council held an emergency meeting Friday. Afterwards, the organization announced Dumas has been suspended for the duration of an outside investigation by “human resource lawyers,” who would be “impartial, neutral and objective.”
The council, which normally comprises 10 Manitoba chiefs, ordered reviews of the AMC’s workplace harassment policies and constitution to identify potential amendments.
It will appoint an acting grand chief Monday.
The AMC, a political group which advocates for 62 First Nations, declined to comment further.
A news release identified the complainant as a senior staff member. The Free Press isn’t naming her because the complaint involves an alleged sexual assault.
In her emailed complaint, she urged the council to respond with “urgency” because she suspects other women at the AMC have experienced “the same thing.”
She claims Dumas “harassed” her by phone, in person and virtually since her second day on the job.
“My personal experience of harassment and sexual misconduct has created an unsafe work environment where I have been subjected to gender-based violence,” the woman wrote. “I am unable to provide more details to this issue, as a formal complaint has been filed with the Winnipeg Police Service sex crimes unit, but I can confirm from my experience, I was sexually assaulted.”
The Free Press requested comment from Dumas, who is Manitoba’s most powerful Indigenous leader.
Several First Nations chiefs did not return requests for comment.
Bloodvein Chief Derek Cook said he agrees with the council’s decision to suspend Dumas.
“We want to be leaders in not condoning this type of behaviour,” Cook said Friday. “I believe it goes far enough right now because I believe in due diligence in the investigation.”
According to the AMC constitution, registered chiefs or delegates can remove a grand chief by a majority vote at a special assembly. In such a scenario, the grand chief must be given a “reasonable opportunity” to address the assembly.
Two Winnipeg women, who previously accused Dumas of inappropriate behaviour, said he should be removed from office.
In separate interviews, Bethany Maytwayashing and Renée Yetman said they are “proud” of the AMC staff member who came forward.
“I support her 100 per cent and I’m right behind her on this,” said Maytwayashing. “I thank her for her bravery because she also gave me credibility.”
“It retraumatized me,” said Yetman. “It was not easy to speak against a male leader that’s supposed to be protecting us. He advocates for the missing and murdered Indigenous women, but he’s the complete opposite.”
Yetman, 36, said she met Dumas at a 2017 community event where she was singing in a female drum group. They later became Facebook friends and met in person.
She said Dumas claimed he was a single father. She believed he was interested in a relationship based on what he told her and wrote to her in text and social media messages.
“I don’t think that anybody who has an allegation of sexual assault against them should be still in their position.” – MLA Nahanni Fontaine
Yetman said they had consensual sex after Dumas invited her to his home, but days later he told her he was in a relationship. Dumas has never publicly responded to her claims.
She first came forward in 2019 to support Maytwayashing.
In 2019, Maytwayashing accused Dumas of sending inappropriate texts and Facebook messages to her, after they met at a restaurant when she was 22 and he was in his mid-40s.
Dumas previously called the allegations “entirely false” and denied pursuing an intimate relationship with Maytwayashing. He claimed someone had impersonated him.
He took a two-week leave of absence in 2019 to “heal with his family,” and apologized for an “open and informal communication style,” which he feared made women uncomfortable.
Dumas, who was first elected as grand chief in 2017, won another three-year term in a 2021 vote.
Maytwayashing and Yetman said they weren’t taken seriously by the AMC. At the time of Maytwayashing’s claims, the organization said it would hire a third party to investigate.
Maytwayashing said she doesn’t know what happened and she feels there was no accountability.
Before the suspension was announced Friday, Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine, NDP critic for justice and spokeswoman for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people, said Dumas should step aside amid the investigation.
“I don’t think that anybody who has an allegation of sexual assault against them should be still in their position,” she said.
Dumas “on many occasions” has spoken in public about MMIWG2S people, the St. Johns MLA said.
“How are you going to have somebody who’s in that position of privilege and power continue to execute his roles and responsibilities, which may include talking on behalf of MMIWG2S or addressing the issue of violence against women?” said Fontaine.
Fontaine said it is “incredibly brave and courageous” of women to go through a complaint process and share traumatizing details with police and the AMC.
“As to whether Mr. Dumas steps aside, that is a decision for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs executive council to make.” – Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont
The Free Press contacted the provincial government for comment.
“As this is an active police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” a spokeswoman for Premier Heather Stefanson wrote in an email.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont declined to say if he thinks Dumas should step aside or be removed from office.
“Allegations such as these need to be handled and taken very seriously, while respecting the course of justice and due process,” he said. “As to whether Mr. Dumas steps aside, that is a decision for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs executive council to make.”
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chairwoman of the National Family and Survivors Circle, had called on the AMC to remove Dumas from his position until an independent and thorough investigation was completed.
“It’s deeply concerning there have been repeated allegations against a top political leader in the Indigenous community,” she said.
The AMC needs to create an environment where there is safe reporting, action, follow-up and support, said Anderson-Pyrz.
— with files from Ryan Thorpe and Carol Sanders
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.