A woman who accused Manitoba’s top Indigenous leader of sending her inappropriate messages says the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is avoiding accountability by refusing to explain how it investigated Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.
"Everything was brushed under the carpet, and I felt silenced," Bethany Maytwayashing told the Free Press recently.
In 2019, Maytwayashing went public about a handful of Facebook and text messages — attributed to Dumas’s cellphone number — that left her "really creeped out."
The sender asked Maytwayashing to guess his or her identity and hinted the two had met at her workplace, that she was a mom and that the two had hugged at some point.
Maytwayashing was 22 years old when she received a message attributed to Dumas, who was in his mid-40s, asking to "meet up."
Dumas later claimed he didn’t send the messages and suggested someone used technology to falsify his number "for political or other purposes."
At the same time, however, he admitted having communicated with Maytwayashing to provide "advice and guidance on her path forward."
Other women subsequently stepped forward to accuse Dumas of various behaviours that ranged from making comments that left them feeling uncomfortable to a consensual sexual encounter that a woman deemed inappropriate of top leader. In a 2014 affidavit filed in divorce proceedings, Dumas’s ex-wife alleged he had persistently texted and exchanged Facebook messages with other women.
Dumas, who was elected to his post in 2017, took a two week leave to "heal" and apologized for an "open and informal communication style," which he feared made women uncomfortable. "I did not pursue a relationship of an intimate nature with this woman," he wrote at the time, referring to Maytwayashing.
The assembly said it would have a third party conduct an investigation and that Dumas had handed over his phone for examination.
"This is an internal administrative matter. But note that it is underway," a spokeswoman wrote July 16, 2019.
"That was the last thing they said to media, and then after that it went quiet," Maytwayashing told the Free Press.
"There was no followup with the investigation. I don’t think it’s fair."
"Everything was brushed under the carpet, and I felt silenced." – Bethany Maytwayashing
At the time, Maytwayashing publicly offered to submit her phone to have an expert determine whether the texts originated from someone other than Dumas.
That month, Winnipeg lawyer Jamie Kagan told the Free Press his firm, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, was investigating the issue, though he dismissed the "circus-like atmosphere" around the incident. He said the independent assessment focused on both Dumas’s behaviour and the AMC’s digital security
"We’re trying to look at more how we get better, as opposed to the past," Kagan said.
In the aftermath of the allegations, AMC’s women’s council said it would not investigate, but rather offer support to Maytwayashing. But she and the council accused each other of poor communication, and a scheduled meeting fell through.
Meanwhile, AMC started placing paid advertisements on Facebook, warning people "to take the proper precautions" after "recent impersonations on social media, targeting politicians, First Nations leaders and people of influence."
Dumas emerged from his two-week leave in August 2019 at the AMC’s annual assembly, which had unusually tight media restrictions, at which he told the Free Press "I’m fabulous," and refused to comment on the allegations.
"I enjoy the support of the assembly and community and I’m looking forward to championing the work that we’ve done."
At the time of the allegations, Maytwayashing’s then-boyfriend was served with legal papers accusing him of making "salacious accusations" about Dumas. The assembly, which relies largely on federal funding, later told the Free Press it hadn’t paid for legal services.
Maytwayashing was not threatened with legal action, a fact she feels reinforces the truth of her allegations.
"I’m free to speak," she said. "I don’t have a gag order."
Dumas was re-elected to a second term last July, defeating Sheila North, a former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations in the province.
During her remarks on a Facebook livestream during the organization’s two-day July assembly, North referred to the texting incident with Maytwayashing: "I do support our own, but I do not support men who disrespect women."
“All measures requested were complied with to the satisfaction of AMC’s Executive and Women’s Council and we now consider this matter at a close.” – AMC interim executive director Ritchie Arthurson
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs would not agree to an interview with Dumas and refused to provide answers to several questions: whether Dumas was ever sanctioned, what the investigation entailed and its findings and whether he undertook the "professional sensitivity training" he’d promised to do in 2019.
Instead, the organization provided one sentence attributed to its interim executive director, Ritchie Arthurson:
"All measures requested were complied with to the satisfaction of AMC’s Executive and Women’s Council and we now consider this matter at a close."
Marilyn Courchene, a former Sagkeeng band councillor, recalls approaching both Dumas and Maytwayashing, suggesting they participate in a traditional healing circle instead of media callouts and legal threats.
"The western system is too colonized for us; it’s not our way of doing anything to work towards healing and reconciliation and forgiveness and restoring and giving balance," Courchene said this week.
"It’s not our way. There’s still opportunity out there for these two to mend whatever it was."
Courchene said that involves taking accountability for actions, but also focusing on how to do better.
"It’s not something to fool around with, when it comes to our young women," she said.
When the allegations came to light, the assembly noted the death of Dumas’s son four months prior, saying it affected his mental health. Courchene said that doesn’t excuse Dumas’s actions, but she questioned having so many accusers come forward at once.
"It was wrong timing for everyone at the time."
As grand chief, Dumas represents all First Nations in Manitoba and negotiates with federal ministers. The AMC is linked to almost every First Nations initiative and funding program in the province.
Indigenous leaders and female chiefs have echoed Maytwayashing’s criticism about the assembly refusing to explain the investigation and whether Dumas was punished, but declined to speak on the record, citing Dumas’s influence.
“I’d like to know his side. What does he make of the whole situation, and has he learned anything. He does come from a generation that’s much different from ours… women actually aren’t scared to speak up.” – Bethany Maytwayashing
Maytwayashing said she’s disappointed Dumas didn’t acknowledge doing something wrong, which she said could model for Indigenous men how to learn and treat women better.
"He was making excuses for his behaviour and using words to get away from his actions," she said, adding she’d still like to Dumas to apologize in person.
"I’d like to know his side. What does he make of the whole situation, and has he learned anything. He does come from a generation that’s much different from ours… women actually aren’t scared to speak up," she said.
In any case, Maytwayashing said women should stand up when they feel they’ve been wronged, even if she found it difficult to deal with the media attention and messages from strangers.
"All the time I’ve had to think about it has helped me to grow, and I’m now more prepared than ever to carry on," she said.
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