Former AMC leader appearance at powwow raises ire, questions
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The participation of a former Manitoba grand chief in the grand entry for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation powwow has left some hurt and angry.
Arlen Dumas was removed from his position as head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in a vote in August, after accusations of sexual misconduct.
A workplace sexual harassment claim was backed up by an independent investigation, the 62 First Nations advocacy group said the lead-up to 30-13 vote to remove Dumas from office.
Dumas has also been publicly accused of sex assault by a former co-worker. Police have laid no charges and the allegation has not been tested in court.
At the time, Dumas released a statement saying the allegations were unfounded and he would defend himself to the fullest extent of the law.
On Sept. 30, Dumas took part in the commemorative Orange Shirt Day powwow at the RBC Convention Centre, one of the largest gatherings in the province to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Photos of Dumas wearing a headdress during the grand entry — the beginning of the powwow which brings in dancers, dignitaries and other notable members of the ceremony — spread through social media over the weekend, leading to online anger and questions of why he was allowed to take part on a day focused on healing.
On Monday, Sandra DeLaronde, a long-time advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, called it an example of alleged victims being silenced once more.
“My first thought was: how does this feel to his victims that see him, again, placed in a position of honour and respect?” said DeLaronde, who did not attend the downtown Winnipeg powwow.
Dumas did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
One of the main organizers of the powwow said Dumas was not formally invited and did not know he was there until later in the ceremonies.
“We did recognize that at the end of the grand entry, Arlen Dumas (was) walking away pulling off his headdress. So we were trying to all ask each other, ‘What happened? How did he get in there? Did somebody say something to him?’” said Wayne Mason Jr., Wa-Say Healing Centre’s cultural support provider.
“And we got word this morning that somebody did go mention it to Dumas, but we don’t know who that person was. It’s not like we invited him, it’s not like we expected him to be in it.”
Mason said the centre has yet to receive a formal complaint about the former AMC leader’s attendance.
“Everyone has their own opinions. I understand that there’s a lot of people out there that are upset that he was there,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that got a hold of us and said that the day was positive, it was healing, it was a powerful event, a powerful time — and that’s what we focus on.”
“We got word this morning that somebody did go mention it to Dumas, but we don’t know who that person was. It’s not like we invited him, it’s not like we expected him to be in it.”–Wayne Mason Jr.
Mason said a meeting held Monday about the event included a discussion about how a similar situation might be dealt with in the future.
“When we get more information about this situation, we will probably address it and see what what can be done next year, and how we can have more control on who gets into the grand entry,” he said.
DeLaronde said for many, seeing Dumas in a headdress, which are often gifts given to leaders with an intrinsic tie to that leader’s responsibilities, was especially jarring.
“It’s a spiritual covenant as a leader to protect the people and to stand for the people,” she said. “So that’s what makes it especially hurtful… is knowing that significance and the fact that he came in wearing this honour, and at the same time, having created such harm for women.”
“It’s a spiritual covenant as a leader to protect the people and to stand for the people… So that’s what makes it especially hurtful.”–Sandra DeLaronde
In May, the Free Press reported DeLaronde co-wrote a letter to AMC offering to facilitate a trauma-informed process for the women involved in allegations against Dumas, and that offer was denied by the assembly.
The uncovering of truth that needs to come before healing hasn’t yet happened, she said Monday.
“People, too, are in a rush to go to that place of healing and reconciliation without dealing with the truth,” she said.
“There’s this global issue of the residential schools in (receiving) truth before reconciliation, and then when we look at it in the microcosm of violence against women, sexualized violence… it’s the same thing, but on a smaller scale. They have to come to a place where the truth is dealt with and restoration observed, and then determine what does the reconciliation look like.”
The AMC said it was not aware Dumas was planning to attend the event and had no further comment.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 9:59 AM CDT: Fixes spelling of powwow