A letter demanding the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs allow victim advocates to co-lead an inquiry into the conduct of its suspended grand chief, Arlen Dumas, has been endorsed by three New Democratic politicians.

A letter demanding the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs allow victim advocates to co-lead an inquiry into the conduct of its suspended grand chief, Arlen Dumas, has been endorsed by three New Democratic politicians.

Member of Parliament Leah Gazan and Manitoba NDP MLAs Nahanni Fontaine and Bernadette Smith, added their names to an open letter published Monday, that urges chiefs to consider the victims of sexual violence and "engage in a process of discovery that is trauma informed and independently managed."

"We are concerned that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is not proceeding with a trauma-informed process that centres on those who have been adversely affected by the grand chief’s behaviour," the letter states.

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The AMC's executive council of chiefs suspended Arlen Dumas in March and launched a workplace investigation after a female staff member accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The AMC's executive council of chiefs suspended Arlen Dumas in March and launched a workplace investigation after a female staff member accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

"The process we are asking for today is an independent commission of inquiry that is trauma-informed, co-developed and co-led by AMC and victim advocates as agreed upon by both parties."

Neither Fontaine nor Smith — the NDP critics for justice and mental health and addictions, respectively — were made available for an interview Tuesday.

The party’s director of communications Emily Coutts deferred comment to Sandra DeLaronde, the lead signatory to the letter.

Fontaine posted the open letter to social media on Monday with the caption "You can’t in one breath say, ‘our women are sacred,’ and in the next speak in support (of) a serial abuser/harasser. There’s no in between."

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Member of Parliament Leah Gazan

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Member of Parliament Leah Gazan

Gazan was not available to comment due to obligations on Parliament Hill, said Tristan Oliff, press secretary for the federal NDP.

In March, the assembly’s executive council of chiefs suspended Dumas and launched a workplace investigation after a female staff member accused the grand chief of sexual harassment and assault.

The woman sent a letter to the executive council describing an unsafe work environment in which she was subject to gender-based violence. She also filed a complaint with Winnipeg police. No charges have been laid.

According to the assembly, it has retained an "impartial, neutral and objective" law firm to conduct the workplace investigation with a final report expected at the end of this month.

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NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine

The assembly has been criticized by community leaders, elders, and experts on gender-based violence for its handling of current and past allegations against Dumas.

In March, community members protested outside the AMC offices; some shared their experiences of inappropriate behaviour by Dumas. Speakers called on the political advocacy group to include an independent council of elder women in the investigation process and for Dumas to resign.

Earlier this year, the assembly rejected a proposal by DeLaronde, the former co-chair of Manitoba’s MMIWG2S Coalition, and Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, the National Family and Survivors Circle chair, to facilitate a trauma-informed process for women with allegations of harassment against First Nations chiefs.

Last week, a draft letter calling on the assembly to strip Dumas of his title was leaked to media amid an APTN report that another woman had come forward, via a third-party reporting process, to allege she had been sexually assaulted by him in 2009.

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NDP MLA Bernadette Smith

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP MLA Bernadette Smith

A request for comment from DeLaronde was not returned by deadline Tuesday.

The open letter states signatories twice requested meetings with the acting grand chief Cornell McLeanto find a way to collectively support victims and did not receive a reply. The letter urged member chiefs to "consider the impact of your handling of the matter of the grand chief."

"It is a long, painful and often silent journey for individuals who have been subjected to violence, especially by those who wear bonnets of honour and warriorship," the letter stated.

"Those that are brave enough to use their voice to speak for themselves are often silenced, rendered without agency and subjected to lateral violence with fear of physical safety and negative impacts to well-being."

In a statement, the AMC said it must maintain confidentiality and ensure workplace investigations are undertaken in a procedurally fair and impartial manner, consistent with legislation.

"As the independent workplace investigation is currently in progress, the AMC cannot undertake any process that would jeopardize its legal obligations in relation to the investigation," the statement said.

"There are several advocates who have kindly offered assistance with this process. The AMC appreciates their well-meaning intentions; however, the AMC is required to maintain the complainant’s confidentiality."

Dumas will face a non-confidence vote after the internal investigation has been completed.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.