Dumas seeking treatment for childhood trauma, asks for ‘understanding’ before crucial AMC vote Suspended grand chief ‘gaslighting’ sexual harassment accusers, Indigenous women’s advocate says
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Just days ahead of a vote that could see Grand Chief Arlen Dumas removed over a finding of sexual harassment, the suspended head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is pleading for support, saying he’s seeking help for lifelong trauma.
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Dumas denied an investigator’s finding of sexual harassment, yet acknowledged he had traumatized others.
“These past months have been extremely difficult, but they have helped me begin to recognize and acknowledge the impacts of the many traumas I have suffered dating back to my early childhood,” Dumas wrote.
“I ask for support and understanding while I dedicate myself to learning how to become a healthier father and leader, capable of contributing so much more to my family, our people and our communities.”
Prominent advocates for Indigenous women rejected his comments, and are planning to gather outside the meeting where Dumas will face a non-confidence vote on Friday.
“You cannot use trauma as a crutch to perpetuate sexual violence against women,” said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a Winnipeg-based expert on gender-based violence against Indigenous women.
“It’s like gaslighting victims.”
In 2019, Dumas took a brief leave of absence after acknowledging he had made comments and sent text messages to young women that made them uncomfortable.
In March, the allegations escalated into alleged sexual harassment, prompting staff to put Dumas on paid leave. Winnipeg police’s sex-crimes unit opened a parallel probe, though those allegations have not resulted in charges or been tested in court, with the force saying Wednesday it is still investigating.
“You cannot use trauma as a crutch to perpetuate sexual violence against women.”-Hilda Anderson-Pyrz
On June 29, a third-party legal firm ended a months-long investigation by concluding Dumas had sexually harassed a senior staffer, Shauna Fontaine. The firm probed allegations of sexual misconduct and found Dumas’s behaviour amounted to workplace sexual harassment. He was placed on unpaid leave.
The Free Press has spoken with five former female staffers who allege that people close to the grand chief bullied subordinates, which was corroborated in a leaked human-resources report.
Dumas disputed those allegations, yet seemed to acknowledge perpetuating harm.
“Before I defend myself to the fullest extent of the law, I require time to seek treatment to ensure I no longer perpetuate the trauma I have encountered,” he wrote, asking for support.
“Leadership is about role modelling and having the strength to undertake a journey of self-discovery.”
The assembly said it had no role in crafting or sending Dumas’s message, which he sent from his private email address.
In June, Sandra DeLaronde joined Anderson-Pyrz in co-signing a letter to the assembly, demanding victims’ advocates co-lead a trauma-informed inquiry into Dumas’s conduct. They feel the current approach is a top-down structure controlled by chiefs, who are overwhelmingly male.
Both said the suspended grand chief’s statement is a distraction from Friday’s non-confidence vote.
“He’s had months and months and, in fact, almost three years, to take trauma treatment and hasn’t done so, and now here we are less than a week away from the vote to remove him and he issues a press release blaming it on his childhood,” said DeLaronde, the former co-chair of Manitoba’s MMIWG2S Coalition to stop violence against Indigenous women.
“But as a person who as a position of power and responsibility, he doesn’t need to be grand chief to seek treatment. He can do that and carry on with whatever comes before him. He doesn’t need to maintain the title of grand chief.”
Both women said Dumas’s statement will be devastating to victims who have never seen any accountability.
“Where are they in all of this? Have they been forgotten?” Anderson-Pyrz asked.
“Healing is important, but you cannot use it as an excuse to condone sexualized violence and predatory behaviours.”-Hilda Anderson-Pyrz
“Healing is important, but you cannot use it as an excuse to condone sexualized violence and predatory behaviours.”
The assembly has withheld the location of its meeting Friday, saying it is being held in-camera and that results will be shared with media.
But the pair revealed the meeting is scheduled to take place at Assiniboia Downs at 1 p.m. Friday, and they plan to rally outside with people supporting victims beginning at 11 a.m., so they can look chiefs in the eye when they arrive.
The two hope chiefs launch the victim-centred process they had proposed in June, and argue that not ousting Dumas would send a devastating message to Indigenous women.
The AMC constitution states a grand chief can only be removed by a majority vote of registered chiefs or delegates, and that the grand chief will be allowed to address the assembly before the vote.
The assembly is a political advocacy organization that represents 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba, making the grand chief the most powerful Indigenous leader in the province.
Dumas took office in 2017, and chiefs re-elected him to a three-year term in July 2021.
The PC and NDP caucuses declined to comment on Dumas’s statement.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.