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This article was published 16/7/2019 (188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s First Nations chiefs have been roiled by a firestorm of criticism, sparked by allegations Grand Chief Arlen Dumas sent inappropriate text messages to a young woman.
On Tuesday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs women’s council announced it would stop probing the incident — though the council head said it was only lending support to the complainant, and not actually investigating the allegations.
"I was just trying to help," said Francine Meeches, chief of Swan Lake First Nation.
The council attempted to meet with Bethany Maytwayashing last week, after she went public with a string of recent Facebook messages she received from a person using a pseudonym, which were followed by text messages attributed to Dumas’ cellphone number.
Dumas has said he didn’t send the messages, and someone impersonated his phone number for an unspecified political reason.
After Maytwayashing provided texts Dumas had sent her a year earlier, he apologized Friday for an "open and informal communication style," which he feared made women uncomfortable.
The AMC grand chief took a leave of absence Friday.
That day, the women’s council set up a hastily planned meeting in Winnipeg for Maytwayashing. Meeches insisted this was to hear her perspective.
Maytwayashing said the meeting was on too short notice to find a babysitter, and she was out of cellphone service in order to escape online backlash. Meeches said Maytwayashing never told the women’s council she’d be away, and at least one chief travelled from the province’s north.
"At least tell me you’re not going to be there," Meeches said. "I understand she’s going through this situation, but (she) has to respect these people trying to help."
Maytwayashing later dismissed the entire process, saying the AMC women’s council could not be an impartial arbiter of fact. Meeches "categorically denies" any accusation of bias.
"We’re human; you can’t think we don’t have a heart," said Meeches, who got emotional over the firestorm of criticism facing her and other chiefs. She noted Dumas lost his son in March, and she is still grieving over her own child’s death two years prior.
Meeches also lamented the women’s council being seen as the AMC’s investigative arm.
"There’s never been a mandate we’ve been given to take on something like this; we just took it upon ourselves to help," she said. "They can take it from here; I’m not going to be part of it."
The AMC declined an interview Tuesday, and refused to specify what type of investigation is actually happening, and whether it meets Maytwayashing’s demand for a forensic examination of Dumas’ phone.
"In terms of a third-party investigation, this is an internal administrative matter. But note that it is underway," spokeswoman Natalie Ballentyne wrote.
The AMC also dismissed claims by Maytwayashing’s boyfriend, Matthew Shorting, that his firing last week by the Onashowewin Justice Circle was related to him posting Dumas’ alleged texts online.
The couple has been asking women to go public with allegations of inappropriate encounters with chiefs. A handful have shared such accounts on social media and with reporters.
None involving Dumas have alleged criminal activity. The Free Press is verifying their claims.
"The AMC Secretariat Inc. has no comment on the personal life of Grand Chief Arlen Dumas," Ballentyne wrote.
Meeches questioned the motives of those coming forward.
"You’re reaching out to everybody to bring forth basically any dirty laundry on any chiefs in Manitoba," Meeches said. "Why should I sit here and try to help somebody that’s doing things in the background, and adding fuel to the fire?"
In a paid Facebook advertisement, the AMC advises people "to take the proper precautions" after the "recent impersonations on social media, targeting politicians, First Nations leaders and people of influence." That includes reporting suspicious activity and blocking questionable accounts.
At a news conference July 10, a Peguis First Nation official chastised an APTN journalist for asking about the allegations at an unrelated event.
"What’s so frustrating is that our own media is the first one willing to splash all our dirty laundry all over the place," Anita Wilson said. "You made the spectacle."
Updated on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 2:32 PM CDT: Writethrough