BROKENHEAD OJIBWAY NATION — Manitoba’s top Indigenous leader has resumed his position after a two-week-long leave – but Arlen Dumas declined to comment on the status of the investigation into the allegations that required him to take time "to heal."
Allegations that the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs’ grand chief sent inappropriate text messages to a young Winnipeg woman surfaced last month.
Dumas has said he didn’t send the messages and raised concerns someone falsified his number for an unspecified political reason. He then took a leave of absence from his role as grand chief.
He told the Free Press he returned to work on Tuesday.
"I’m good. I’m fabulous," Dumas said. "I enjoy the support of the assembly and community and I’m looking forward to championing the work that we’ve done."
He declined to comment further on the allegations or investigation.
Dumas’s return came one day before the AMC’s annual general meeting. The two-day meeting was held July 31 and Aug. 1 at the South Beach Casino and Resort in Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, about 50 minutes northwest of Winnipeg.
Members of the media were banned from attending the meeting.
AMC spokesman Andrew Thunder said media entry into the assembly’s events depends on every situation. He declined to comment on why the ban was in place at this week’s meeting.
On July 9, Bethany Maytwayashing went public with a handful of recent Facebook messages she received from a profile using a pseudonym. The messages were followed by a series of texts attributed to Dumas’s cellphone number.
The sender asked Maytwayashing to guess their identity. They hinted they met at her workplace, that she was a mom and that the two had hugged at some point.
Matthew Shorting, Maytwayashing’s boyfriend, posted screenshots of the messages online. He has since been served with legal papers accusing him of making "salacious accusations" about Dumas. The AMC – powered largely by federal funding grants – later told the Free Press it hadn’t paid for legal services.
The assembly has said it is investigating the issue and Dumas has since handed over his phone.
The grand chief also apologized for an "open and informal communication style," which he feared made women uncomfortable.
The AMC’s women’s council said it sent at least one chief from the province’s north to meet with Maytwayashing to support her.
But the meeting never took place as Maytwayashing said it was on too short notice and her cellphone was out of service to avoid online backlash.
"I don’t want to be a part of that anymore. I’m done. I did my part weeks ago… I just wanted to reach out to her to give her that voice," said Francine Meeches, chief of Swan Lake First Nation and chairperson for the women’s council, after the two-day conference.
Topics on the conference’s agenda included the AMC’s governance structure, its efforts to increase funding for Indigenous students and its critiques of the federal government’s child welfare reform law Bill C-92.
Dumas said Manitoba’s chiefs are adamant about creating their own child welfare legislation and mechanisms.
"The federal legislation that had come down is well-meaning. Unfortunately, it’s too short-sighted," Dumas said, adding there are an estimated 11,000 Indigenous children in care in the province.
"The federal government needs to remember that First Nations are their treaty partners and that the relationship we do have is with the federal government and there are certain mechanisms in place that we have to honour."
Meeches reiterated Dumas' sentiments, adding that Indigenous children won't be protected until FIrst Nations are given "total authority to take care of our own."
All four federal party leaders were invited to the meeting but none attended. Neither did Premier Brian Pallister.
"There is no relationship more important to me and, indeed, the Canadian people, than our relationship with Indigenous peoples," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a statement to the AMC, which was obtained by the Free Press.
NDP leader Wab Kinew, MLA Judy Klassen, MLA Bernadette Smith and NDP candidates Leah Gazan and Kyle Mason made appearances throughout the two-day conference.
Smith declined to comment on specifics addressed at the meeting, citing the NDP’s upcoming election platform, which is confidential but will be formally detailed in the coming weeks.
The MLA for Point Douglas added the NDP is committed to treating First Nations as partners rather than special interest groups.
— With files from Dylan Robertson
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.