Inglorious end to Manitoba grand chief’s term

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In the end, it was fitting the reign of Arlen Dumas as grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs ended with the voices of Indigenous women.

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Opinion

In the end, it was fitting the reign of Arlen Dumas as grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs ended with the voices of Indigenous women.

For more than a decade, there has been talk of inappropriate behaviour surrounding the now-former spokesman for 62 First Nations in Manitoba.

It started with whispers, after Dumas became Chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in 2008.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs voted Friday to strip suspended grand chief Arlen Dumas of his title. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

In May 2022, an Indigenous woman filed a complaint with Winnipeg police claiming Dumas sexually assaulted her in 2009. Dumas denied this.

In a 2014 affidavit filed during his divorce and obtained by the Free Press, Dumas’ ex-wife alleged he had relationships “with other women” and would constantly be texting and contacting them on social media. Dumas denied those claims, too.

The whispers grew after Dumas became Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in 2017.

In 2019, an Indigenous woman alleged he sent her inappropriate messages that made her “uncomfortable.” Another said that she had the same experience.

Shortly after, another Indigenous woman posted a social media video claiming she had had a relationship with Dumas that left her feeling manipulated.

Dumas argued he was misunderstood or the women were lying. He also argued someone was “spoofing” him (using a phone number or fake social media account to misrepresent another person).

Reporters quickly identified phone numbers under his name were used to contact the women.

By this time, members of the media were receiving constant emails of inappropriate late-night messages, multiple affairs and other allegations against Dumas.

What once were whispers were now open conversations.

This is where things get really ugly for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

In response to the 2019 allegations, Dumas took a leave of absence “to heal,” while AMC staff promised to “investigate” the claims against the grand chief.

Nothing came from any such investigation. The AMC Women’s Council, who promised to look into claims, released a statement refusing to participate in “social media drama.”

Dumas returned to work within two weeks.

“I’m fabulous,” the grand chief told the Free Press at the time. “I enjoy the support of the assembly and community.”

Meanwhile, in 2021, an external third-party review stated the AMC suffered from a “toxic” workplace where few could speak out and a “fear-based” culture existed.

“Issues are noted as unprofessional, bullying, belittling, power and control mongering, sabotaging, blaming, micro-managing and demoralizing,” the report states.

The Free Press obtained multiple accounts of present and past employees (mostly Indigenous women) who backed up the claims.

During the election campaign for grand chief in 2021, a rival female candidate even made an open accusation against Dumas during a speech.

Still, chiefs voted resoundingly for Dumas, re-electing him.

The tipping point was reached in March, when a female staffer alleged Dumas had sexually assaulted and harassed her, filing a complaint with Winnipeg police.

With public pressure mounting, Dumas was put on leave, with AMC staffers promising an investigation into his behaviour.

Indigenous women had seen this performance before though, and took action.

They organized a protest in front of AMC offices.

Activists created an online “open letter,” with hundreds of signatures calling on AMC to hold an independent, externally-run investigation into the conduct of Dumas and a process that “centred the victims.”

The woman who accused Dumas of harassment and assault outed herself publicly, in order to keep up public pressure.

What had begun as whispers about one Indigenous man had become a critical mass condemning the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs over its treatment of women.

As for the AMC investigation into Dumas, the results were released to chiefs in a special assembly Aug. 5. The findings: the grand chief had engaged in workplace sexual harassment.

Dumas was given the opportunity to respond, but didn’t, claiming he was entering “treatment” to “begin healing not only from the events of the past five months but also a lifetime of trauma.”

On Aug. 5, chiefs voted 30-13 to remove Dumas as grand chief.

Outside the Winnipeg venue where the vote was held, more than a dozen Indigenous women celebrated, their voices finally heard.

Announcing the decision, interim grand chief Cornell McLean apologized “on behalf of the assembly,” stating “women need to be protected.”

McLean added: “When you’re a leader in your community, you can’t (mis)use your power of trust in any way, shape or form.”

A new AMC grand chief will be selected Oct. 19.

Winnipeg police are still determining if any charges against Dumas will be laid.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

History

Updated on Monday, August 8, 2022 5:30 PM CDT: Adds links

Updated on Monday, August 8, 2022 6:57 PM CDT: Clarifies graph on charges

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