Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs votes to remove suspended Grand Chief Arlen Dumas
Suspension came in March following accusations of sexual harassment, assault
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has voted to remove suspended Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, and publicly apologized to the two women who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.
At a special general assembly held in Winnipeg on Friday, dozens of Manitoba chiefs held a non-confidence vote to officially remove Dumas from his position, following accusations he sexually harassed and assaulted an employee.
Interim Grand Chief Cornell McLean told CBC News that 30 voted in favour of immediately removing the grand chief, and 13 voted against in the closed-door meeting.
"On behalf of the assembly, we have to [apologize], because we need to protect them from things like this happening," McLean said.
Dumas was suspended in March pending an investigation into allegations he engaged in workplace sexual harassment and sexually assaulted an employee, who at the time was anonymous. The employee filed a police report, but no charges have been laid.
McLean apologized to Shauna Fontaine, who came forward publicly in June as the employee who filed the complaint, and expressed her disappointment in AMC and the police's response to her report.
He also apologized to Bethany Maytwayashing, who accused Dumas of sending inappropriate text messages to her 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 given to CBC News, Fontaine expressed some relief about Dumas's immediate removal, but says she is "mostly saddened and feel traumatized in relation to the whole of this experience."
The statement renews her call for more transparent, trauma-informed investigation 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 workplace sexual harassment.
Fontaine originally expressed concern over AMC's handling of her allegations in June, via an open letter that was signed by 200 supporters. The letter called for an independent inquiry into the case.
"It is time for change, and with this outcome, I can only hope that change will take hold," Fontaine's statement reads.
Earlier this week, Dumas announced he would be seeking trauma-based treatment to "begin healing 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 Friday at the special general assembly, despite AMC asking his lawyers for him to attend virtually. He has previously denied the allegations.
Dumas was first elected as AMC grand chief in 2017, and was re-elected last summer.
In an emailed news release after the vote, the assembly said a byelection will be held on Oct. 19 to elect a replacement. Until then, McLean will continue as acting grand chief.
'A message of hope'
Manitoba gender-based violence expert and advocate Hilda Anderson-Pyrz says the vote to oust Dumas sends "a message of hope" that the winds are shifting when it comes to how allegations are handled within political systems.
"There is a slight shift that has occurred," she said, adding Friday's decision was a long time coming.
Anderson-Pyrz says she looks back to when Maytwayashing's allegations first arose and believes the AMC should have immediately called for a third-party independent 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 has to be procedures in place to, you know, hold the individual accountable who has violated those policies and procedures. And it has to be acted upon immediately, as well."
If Dumas had stayed on, it would have sent "a heartbreaking message to Indigenous women across the country," Anderson-Pyrz said. "It would have, you know, diminished any hope … especially for those victims of gender- based violence who are suffering right now and having found their voice and having reached out for help."
Anderson-Pyrz says more Indigenous women need to be given opportunities to take on political roles, including offering training and other support resources.
Patriarchy and misogyny remain "very thick" today within political structures, she said: "We're still trying to shatter those glass ceilings."
With files from Peggy Lam and The Canadian Press