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The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs votes to remove suspended Grand Chief Arlen Dumas

Written by Javed Iqbal

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has voted to remove suspended Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and has publicly apologized to the two women who came forward with sexual assault allegations.

At a special general meeting in Winnipeg on Friday, dozens of Manitoba bosses held a no-confidence vote to officially remove Dumas from his position, following allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted an employee.

Interim Grand Chief Cornell McLean told CBC News that 30 voted to immediately remove the Grand Chief and 13 voted against at the closed-door meeting.

“On behalf of the assembly, we have to [apologize]because we have to protect them from things like this happening,” McLean said.

Dumas was suspended in March pending an investigation into allegations that he participated in workplace sexual harassment and sexually assaulted an employee, who was anonymous at the time. The employee filed a police report, but no charges have been filed.

McLean apologized to Shauna Fontaine, who came out publicly in June as the employee who filed the complaint, expressing her disappointment with AMC and the police response to her report.

He also apologized to Bethany Maytwayashing, who accused Dumas of sending her inappropriate text messages in 2019.

“When you’re a leader in your community, you can’t abuse your power or trust in any way shape or form,” McLean said.

In a written statement provided to CBC News, Fontaine expressed some relief at Dumas’ immediate removal, but says she is “mostly upset and traumatized by this whole experience.”

The statement renews her call for more transparent, trauma-informed inquiry and resolution processes within the AMC, which represents 62 First Nations in the province.

In response to Fontaine’s allegations, the Assembly ordered a third-party investigation, which found that Dumas had engaged in sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fontaine initially expressed concern about AMC’s handling of her allegations in June, via an open letter that was signed by 200 supporters. The letter called for an independent investigation into the matter.

“It’s time for change and with this result I can only hope that change will take hold,” reads Fontaine’s statement.

Earlier this week, Dumas announced that he would seek trauma-based treatment to “begin to heal not only from the events of the past five months, but also a lifetime of trauma,” he said in a news release.

He did not appear on Friday for the extraordinary general meeting, despite the fact that AMC asked its lawyers to participate virtually. He has previously denied the allegations.

Dumas was first elected as AMC chief in 2017 and was re-elected last summer.

In an emailed news release after the vote, the assembly said a by-election will be held on Oct. 19 to choose a replacement. Until then, McLean will continue as Acting Chief.

‘A message of hope’

Manitoba gender-based violence expert and lawyer Hilda Anderson-Pyrz says the vote to oust Dumas sends “a message of hope” that the wind is changing when it comes to how allegations are handled in political systems.

“There’s been a little bit of a shift,” she said, adding that Friday’s decision was a long time coming.

Anderson-Pyrz says she looks back to when Maytwayashing’s allegations first arose and believes AMC should have immediately called for an independent third-party investigation instead of handling the matter internally.

“In my opinion, the victim was revictimized by how the whole process was handled,” she said.

“Once the investigation is done, there have to be procedures in place to, you know, hold accountable the person who violated those policies and procedures. And that also has to be acted upon immediately.”

If Dumas had stayed, it would have sent “a heartbreaking message to Native women across the country,” Anderson-Pyrz said. “It would, you know, have diminished any hope … especially for the victims of gender-based violence who are suffering right now and have found their voice and reached out for help.”

Anderson-Pyrz says more Indigenous women need to be empowered to take on political roles, including providing education and other support resources.

Patriarchy and misogyny remain “very thick” today in political structures, she said: “We’re still trying to break these glass ceilings.”

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Javed Iqbal

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