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Manitoba Chiefs Assembly votes to remove suspended Grand Chief Arlen Dumas

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The Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs has voted to remove suspended Chief Arlen Dumas and publicly apologized to 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 no-confidence vote to formally remove Dumas from his post, following allegations of harassment and sexual assault against an employee.

Interim Grand Chief Cornell McLean told CBC News that 30 voted in favor of the immediate departure of the grand chief and 13 voted against in the closed-door meeting.

“On behalf of the assembly, we must [apologize]because we have to protect them from things like this happening,” McLean said.

Dumas was suspended in March pending an investigation into allegations that he engaged in workplace sexual harassment and sexually assaulted an employee, who was anonymous at the time. The employee filed a complaint with the police, but no charges were filed.

McLean apologized to Shauna Fontaine, who went public in June as a whistleblower who expressed her frustration with AMC and the police response to her complaint.

He also apologized to Bethany Maytwayashing, who accused Dumas of sending her inappropriate messages in 2019.

“When you’re a leader in your community, you can’t abuse your power or your trust in any shape or form,” McLean said.

In a written statement provided to CBC News, Fontaine expressed some relief at Dumas’ sudden departure, but says she is “mostly sad and feels traumatized about this whole experience.”

The statement renews its call for more transparent, trauma-informed investigations 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 sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fontaine first expressed concern about AMC’s handling of her allegations in June, through an open letter that was signed by 200 supporters. The letter called for an independent investigation into the case.

“It’s time for change, and with this result, I can only hope that change will happen,” Fontaine’s statement said.

Earlier this week, Dumas announced he would seek trauma-informed treatment to “begin healing not only from the events of the past five months, but a lifetime of trauma,” he said in a news release.

He did not appear on Friday at the special general meeting, despite AMC asking its lawyers to attend virtually. He previously denied the charges.

Dumas was first elected as AMC’s chief executive in 2017 and was re-elected last summer.

In an emailed announcement after the vote, the assembly said a second election would be held on October 19 to choose a replacement. Until then, McLeanwill 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 changing when it comes to how allegations are handled within political systems.

“There’s a little bit of a shift that’s happened,” she said, adding that Friday’s decision was a long time coming.

Anderson-Pyrz says she looks back to when the Maytwayashing allegations first arose and believes AMC should have immediately called for an independent third-party investigation instead of handling the matter internally.

“In my opinion, the victim was re-victimized by the way the whole process was handled,” she said.

“Once the investigation is done, there should be procedures in place to hold accountable the individual who violated those policies and procedures. And it should also be acted upon immediately.”

If Dumas had stayed, it would have sent “a heartbreaking message to Indigenous women across the country,” Anderson-Pyrzsaid. “It would have diminished, you know, any hope especially for those victims of gender-based violence who are suffering now and who have found their voice and sought help.”

Anderson-Pyrz says more Indigenous women should be given opportunities to take on political roles, including by providing training and other support resources.

Patriarchy and misogyny remain “very thick” within political structures today, she said: “We’re still trying to break through those glass ceilings.”

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