Grand chief sexually harassed female colleague, probe finds

Manitoba’s most powerful chief sexually harassed a senior member of his staff, a months-long workplace investigation has concluded.

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Manitoba’s most powerful chief sexually harassed a senior member of his staff, a months-long workplace investigation has concluded.

The embattled Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is preparing to hold a non-confidence vote on Arlen Dumas, who was suspended from his job as grand chief in March.

A third-party legal firm hired by the AMC to investigate allegations of gender-based violence, including harassment and sexual misconduct, determined Dumas’ behaviour amounted to workplace sexual harassment, the assembly said in a release.

The report was received and reviewed by the assembly’s executive council of chiefs on June 29.

“Following consideration of the independent investigation, the executive council of chiefs passed a resolution accepting the confidential report,” the release stated.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The embattled Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is preparing to hold a non-confidence vote on Arlen Dumas, who was suspended from his job as grand chief in March.

A private, special meeting of the chiefs-in-assembly will be held “as soon as possible to pursue the removal of Arlen Dumas,” through a non-confidence vote, the release said.

“I’m pleased that the investigation found him in violation of workplace sexual harassment, but at the same time I have mixed emotions,” said Shauna Fontaine, who was placed on leave as acting executive director for AMC after accusing Dumas of sexual assault and harassment.

“It’s very troubling and I’m still quite traumatized by my whole experience. I still feel like there was a lack of belief on my behalf as a victim,” she said.

In mid-March Fontaine sent a letter to the AMC’s executive council, describing an unsafe work environment where she was subject to harassment, sexual misconduct and sexually assaulted. Fontaine has also filed a criminal complaint to the Winnipeg Police Service.

Police have not laid charges against Dumas.

“It’s very troubling and I’m still quite traumatized by my whole experience. I still feel like there was a lack of belief on my behalf as a victim.” – Shauna Fontaine

In the weeks that followed, the AMC faced intense criticism for its handling of the inquiry, with advocates raising concerns over the independence and objectivity of the investigation and a failure by the assembly to engage in a trauma-informed inquiry that included victim counselling and support.

An open letter published in early June called for an independent commission of inquiry co-led by victim advocates received over 200 signatures in support, including endorsements from First Nations community leaders and elected officials.

SUPPLIED In mid-March, Shauna Fontaine sent a letter to the AMC’s executive council describing an unsafe work environment where she was subject to harassment, sexual misconduct and sexually assaulted.

“I feel disappointed because other women before me have come forward and spoke about these kinds of behaviours from him,” Fontaine said. “Those other women who came forward before were not believed, nothing was dealt with, and he was put back in that position. As a result of being put back in that position, I was sexually assaulted.”

In 2019, Bethany Maytwayashing went public about inappropriate Facebook and text messages — attributed to Dumas’ cellphone number. A third-party investigation was launched and Dumas took a two-week leave to “heal.” He apologized for an “open and informal communication style,” while denying any wrongdoing. Results of the investigation were not made public.

Other women then stepped forward to accuse Dumas of behaviour that ranged from making comments that made them uncomfortable to a consensual sexual encounter that a woman deemed inappropriate of a top leader.

Fontaine said Dumas has not exhibited “First Nations traditional values” in his conduct towards community members, and in particular, women.

“This is not merely sexual harassment — that he looked at me a certain way, or his behaviour was inappropriate — he violated my body through sexual assault,” Fontaine said, adding the workplace investigation did not go far enough, and criminal allegations have yet to be dealt with by the justice system.

“This is not merely sexual harassment– that he looked at me a certain way, or his behaviour was inappropriate — he violated my body through sexual assault.” – Shauna Fontaine

Fontaine said she has not seen the final report of the workplace investigation. She wants the document to be made public.

The AMC, however, said the report will remain under wraps “out of respect for the confidential and sensitive nature of the investigation.”

“Upon conclusion of this investigation, our hope is that those impacted can begin a process of healing,” the release said. “The AMC is committed to reflecting on and reviewing our workplace policies and practices to ensure our organization fosters a culture of support and respect, reflecting traditional First Nations knowledge and human resources best practices.”

Acting Grand Chief Cornell McLean said he had no comment on the findings of the investigation. He said he learned about the results through the news release.

“You know as much as I know,” he said.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES AMC Interim Grand Chief Cornell McLean said he’ll remain as acting grand chief until a leadership election is held.

McLean said he’ll remain as acting grand chief until a leadership election is held. “It takes an election to have a new grand chief,” said McLean, who is also chief of Lake Manitoba First Nation.

Fontaine, meanwhile, said she’s grateful for the messages of love and support she has received and to those who added their name to the open letter earlier this month.

“That really gave me strength,” Fontaine said.

According to the AMC constitution, a grand chief may only be removed by a majority vote of registered chiefs or delegates at a special assembly. Prior to a vote, the grand chief will be allowed to address the assembly on the matter. Dumas was elected to a three-year term in July 2021.

The Free Press was unable to reach Dumas for comment.

— with files from Carol Sanders

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Police have not laid charges against Arlen Dumas.
Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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