July 20, 2019

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Chief accused of sending improper texts

Woman says Manitoba leader harassed her

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says he’s the victim of a smear campaign after being accused of sending inappropriate text messages.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says he’s the victim of a smear campaign after being accused of sending inappropriate text messages.

A Winnipeg woman says she’s received inappropriate texts from Manitoba’s top Indigenous leader, but the First Nations chief says he’s the victim of a smear campaign.

On Tuesday, the boyfriend of Bethany Maytwayashing posted on social media a series of messages attributed to the phone number of Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. The messages asked Maytwayashing to guess whom she was corresponding with, and to meet.

On Wednesday, Dumas denied sending any of the messages.

“Women aren’t as respected in Canada as much as people think they are, especially Indigenous women,” Maytwayashing said in an interview.

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A Winnipeg woman says she’s received inappropriate texts from Manitoba’s top Indigenous leader, but the First Nations chief says he’s the victim of a smear campaign.

On Tuesday, the boyfriend of Bethany Maytwayashing posted on social media a series of messages attributed to the phone number of Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. The messages asked Maytwayashing to guess whom she was corresponding with, and to meet.

On Wednesday, Dumas denied sending any of the messages.

"Women aren’t as respected in Canada as much as people think they are, especially Indigenous women," Maytwayashing said in an interview.

On July 3, Maytwayashing received messages from a Facebook account, challenging her to figure out who was on the other end.

Over the course of a dozen messages, the account dropped hints about having met at her workplace, the fact she’s a mother and the two having hugged each other at one point. The person mentioned "sometimes, I have feathers in my hair," a reference to a headdress, a symbol of leadership in many First Nations communities.

When Maytwayashing guessed Dumas, the account said yes, and asked to meet up. She received a text message from the phone number Dumas has used in numerous interviews with the Free Press.

Maytwayashing’s boyfriend, Matthew Shorting, posted the messages to social media Tuesday morning. On Facebook, the post has been shared at least 400 times.

By Tuesday afternoon, Dumas’s phone number was no longer working.

On Wednesday afternoon, the assembly put out a statement, saying Dumas had received numerous interview requests about "unsubstantiated" messages "falsely attributed to him."

He did not blame Maytwayashing. Instead, Dumas claimed someone is using technology to send texts using his cellphone number. He attributed it to unnamed "individuals pretending to be someone else for political or other purposes."

Maytwayashing doesn’t believe his position, given the detail in the message thread about previous interactions.

"Honestly, it’s not credible," she said Wednesday. "This guy knew a lot about me, and (at first) I thought, maybe it’s not Arlen, and I was getting really creeped out."

The assembly statement called the posts defamatory, and said Dumas is looking into possible legal action against those sharing the posts.

"It is a cowardly attempt to discredit my reputation," Dumas wrote.

He and Maytwayashing met more than a year ago, when Dumas had lunch at Feast restaurant, where she worked. The two appeared in a photo there, alongside four other people.

Maytwayashing said she crossed paths with Dumas on May 27 at a child welfare rally. A month later, she received the text messages.

Maytwayashing is 22; Dumas is in his mid-40s.

She said the texts are akin to mistreatment and harassment First Nations women have reported at the hands of Winnipeg taxi drivers — an issue the assembly and Dumas have raised in recent months. "I expected more coming from a leader like him."

Maytwayashing said there is a major taboo around alleging mistreatment by Indigenous leaders, and she was "ashamed" when her boyfriend shared the messages publicly.

In the wake of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, First Nations men have launched projects such as the Moose Hide Campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence and street harassment. Dumas has supported such campaigns, including when he addressed the inquiry in Winnipeg. As grand chief, he represents all 63 First Nations in Manitoba and negotiates with federal ministers.

The head of the assembly’s women’s council, Swan Lake Chief Francine Meeches, is investigating the incident and has asked to speak with Maytwayashing.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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