A high-profile leader called in to replace the province’s grand chief, who had been suspended earlier this year amid a sex assault investigation, is facing his own allegation of misconduct, but the longtime chief denies any wrongdoing.
Lawyers for acting Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cornell McLean issued a cease-and-desist letter to Lake Manitoba resident Vanessa Maytwayashing on Monday, after she accused McLean of sexual harassment and abusing the power of his office to have her fired as a custodian at the on-reserve school.
"I feel like I was bullied," Maytwayashing told the Free Press.
Maytwayashing said she has repeatedly asked the band to address mould issues in her Lake Manitoba home for the sake of her 10 children, but to date no repairs have been made.
In a post to social media on June 8, she complained about the delays, suggesting they were retaliatory in nature and alleging McLean had made sexual advances towards her, which she rejected.
The next day, Maytwayashing, who worked for Lake Manitoba School as a casual custodian for six months, was called in for a meeting with the principal, and was reprimanded for the post.
“Why should I protect the chief?” — Vanessa Maytwayashing
During the meeting, Maytwayashing said she was told McLean asked the school to "take care of it" and that her comments violated Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre policies. Maytwayashing said she refused to retract her comments and was fired 45 minutes later.
"Why should I protect the leader?" Maytwayashing said, adding she will not remove her comments or apologize as requested by McLean’s lawyers, despite threats of legal action. "I’m going to leave them up because I didn’t lie about it."
Maytwayashing told the Free Press she refused two advances by McLean over the past four years.
The first time was in a text message exchange with McLean where Maytwayashing requested an electrician go to her home and was asked what she had to offer in exchange.
In response, Maytwayashing said she jokingly offered her sister, to which McLean responded Maytwayashing should "take one for the team."
The second occasion was in 2019 while some residents of Lake Manitoba First Nation were evacuated to Winnipeg following an October snowstorm. Maytwayashing said while checking in to a hotel with her sister and children, McLean offered to book a private room for the two of them, which she refused.
The allegations against McLean come just two months after he was tapped by the Assembly of Grand Chiefs to fill in for suspended grand chief Arlen Dumas, who is at the centre of a workplace investigation involving a senior staff member.
In mid-March, AMC acting executive director Shauna Fontaine alleged she was subject to harassment and sexual misconduct while working with Dumas. She filed a criminal complaint with the Winnipeg Police Service, alleging Dumas had sexually assaulted her.
The assembly retained a law firm to conduct the workplace investigation and a final report is expected as early as next week. Police have not laid charges against Dumas.
Advocates have raised concerns about the independence of the investigation. An open letter published last week calling for an independent inquiry co-led by victim advocates received over 200 signatures in support, including endorsements from First Nations community leaders and elected officials.
McLean told the Free Press he is aware of the concerns and agrees there is merit in having an independent process for people to bring forward sensitive concerns about AMC leadership.
He said the cease-and-desist letter sent to Maytwayashing is not intended to silence those who bring forward complaints against leaders. Rather, his reputation is at stake.
"I don’t want to make it me against her or me against any one of my community members. I have no intention of seeking any damages of any kind, I just need it to stop," McLean said. "It’s not true."
“I had to contact the lawyer because I have to protect my reputation. Is there any proof, is there any messages, is there anything like that? No. If she had the goods, she would post it. I’m sure she would.” — Acting Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cornell McLean
McLean denied behaving inappropriately towards Maytwayashing, refuted suggestions that housing repair delays were retaliatory, and said his office did not influence the decision of Lake Manitoba School to fire a staff member.
"I had to contact the lawyer because I have to protect my reputation," McLean said. "Is there any proof, is there any messages, is there anything like that? No. If she had the goods, she would post it. I’m sure she would."
McLean said his communication with Maytwayashing has been strictly related to band business and that materials to address mould in her home are expected to arrive in the community within two weeks.
"I’m not upset with her. I feel bad for her that this issue can’t be resolved and that she has to make these allegations," McLean said.
Meanwhile, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre executive director Charles Cochrane said he could not comment on the specifics of Maytwayashing’s dismissal, but said employees are expected to adhere to a code of conduct and refrain from publishing comments to social media "that could be potentially negative to people."
"We work for the children and the people, and to that extent all staff should be respectful of the people," Cochrane said.
Maytwayashing said she is seeking legal advice about the cease-and-desist letter and her termination from Lake Manitoba School.
"It was a wrongful dismissal," she said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.