Manitoba

'I felt powerless': Woman who says Arlen Dumas sent her inappropriate messages calls for accountability

Nearly three years ago, Bethany Maytwayashing went public with allegations that Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas had sent her inappropriate messages. Last week, Dumas was suspended in light of new allegations of harassment and assault from someone the AMC has identified as a senior staff member. 

Bethany Maytwayashing says grand chief abused his power

Bethany Maytwayashing says she's relieved to hear another woman has come forward with allegations against AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, but wants to see him be accountable for his actions. (Submitted by Bethany Maytwayashing )

A Lake Manitoba First Nation woman says she wasn't surprised to hear new allegations of harassment and sexual assault levelled against a prominent Manitoba grand chief.

Nearly three years ago, Bethany Maytwayashing, 25, went public with allegations that Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas had sent her inappropriate messages. Last week, Dumas was suspended in light of new allegations of harassment and assault from someone AMC has identified as a senior staff member. 

Dumas, who has not been formally charged by Winnipeg police, did not respond to a request for comment.

"I honestly felt a lot of relief when I heard another woman come forward," Maytwayashing said. 

Maytwayashing, who now lives on Vancouver Island, says she hates to say it, but this latest allegation has given her story more credibility. Maytwayashing says after she came forward with her story, people blamed her and bullied her online. 

"No one really believed me," she said. "Honestly, I hope that something is done about it now." 

Dumas has denied that he was trying to start a relationship with Maytwayashing, and has said that his communication style was misinterpreted. 

But she says he should have known better. She was new to Winnipeg at the time, she says, young and just beginning to learn about her culture. Maytwayashing says she believes Dumas saw her vulnerability and took advantage of his powerful position s grand chief. 

The women's council for AMC distanced itself from Maytwayashing's allegations after they were unable to co-ordinate a meeting.

Maytwayashing thinks the way she was treated was unfair, but says she'd like to see a return to traditional ways where women were consulted in leadership decisions.

"This patriarchal society system is not working for us," she said. "It's doing a lot of harm to us and it has for generations. I think we need to go back to our matriarchy and let women lead by example." 

'Residue of colonization'

CBC Manitoba has heard from women chiefs who say they have experienced misogyny but weren't comfortable speaking on record. 

Reporters contacted nine Manitoba chiefs, one former chief and one regional chief who are women. Only one of them returned CBC's request for comment. 

Sexual violence, including harassment and assault, often goes unreported for a variety of reasons, including a fear of retaliation, worry of not being believed and because reliving the experiences can retraumatize people. Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime, Statistics Canada says

While 30 per cent of all Canadian women age 15 or older report having experienced sexual assault, the rate of sexual assault against Indigenous women is three times higher, the Canadian Women's Foundation says.

In an email, Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook said the "old boys club atmosphere" is not limited to First Nations politics. 

"It is part of the residue of colonization and not part of our traditional governance structures," Cook wrote. "I see and am part of a return to more traditional forms of governance that are more balanced and welcoming than the colonized forms we had imposed on us." 

Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook says 'old boys club atmosphere' is not part of traditional Indigenous governance structures. (Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief/Submitted)

When colonizers arrived in North America they brought their social structures with them. Patriarchy was built into the Indian Act and those imposed rules disrupted traditional societies' ways of being, says Cora Voyageur, a member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and sociology professor at the University of Calgary. 

The pressures and expectations on women have only increased over the years, Voyageur says, and gender and racism have made matters even worse. 

"I believe that the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, this comes from a colonial foundation — the idea that women weren't that important and women could be treated badly." 

But Voyageur says there's hope: The number of women Indigenous leaders is growing, and so are calls for accountability. 

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation member and sociology professor Cora Voyageur says from Harvey Weinstein to Jeffrey Epstein, it's clear abuses of power are not unique to the Indigenous community. (Submitted by Cora Voyageur)

"There's a saying that women hold up half the sky — there's the responsibility for the community and this responsibility for future generations that we are going to make things better," she said. "A lot of what the women say is not popular, it's not easy to hear, but it's being said." 

Chief Cook says it's on leaders to conduct themselves with respect and dignity in order to be effective. 

"We have no shortage of good leaders in our communities and we do not have to settle for less," she wrote.

'Do better'

Looking back, Maytwayashing says, speaking out about what happened to her was "a terrible experience." She says at the time, she received messages from people telling her she had their support but they didn't want to speak out for fear of the repercussions.

"And that hurt," she said, "because I felt powerless." 

After Maytwayashing spoke out in 2019, Dumas took a brief leave of absence from his leadership role to undergo counselling and professional sensitivity training. 

CBC requested comment from the AMC on whether an investigation was undertaken in 2019, and whether the sensitivity training was completed, but did not receive a response before deadline. 

Maytwayashing says though she would like an apology from the women's council, she has made peace with her situation and doesn't expect she'll get an apology from Dumas.

What she wants is for him to finally hold himself accountable. 

"I wanted him to show that he can admit he was wrong," Maytwayashing said. "I hope that he can look at his own behaviour to this woman because they worked together. I would love that for her."

In a statement posted to AMC's website Thursday, acting grand chief Eric Redhead said the organization takes allegations of workplace harassment very seriously and is committed to ensuring its employees are protected.

"As this is an ongoing matter and to ensure that the investigation continues to be fair, I am unable to provide any further details or commentary," Redhead's statement said.

"I can say that we will be working to ensure that our policies and constitution provide a clear process for moving forward in the event that situations like this occur in the future and to ensure that our policies exceed federal standards."

Bethany Maytwayashing says grand chief abused his power

3 months ago
Duration 2:57
The suspension of a Manitoba First Nations leader Arlen Dumas on accusations of sexual harassment and assault shocked many people. It also sparked conversations. CBC has heard from First Nations women who say too many of them stay silent when they experience misogyny - fearing the consequences of speaking up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Donnelly

Journalist

Lauren Donnelly is a multimedia journalist working in Winnipeg. To get in touch, find her on Twitter at @actorlbd or email her at lauren.donnelly@cbc.ca.

now