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There was a powerful show of support Monday for a female employee who last week accused Manitoba’s top First Nations leader of sexual assault.
The woman, who did not attend the rally in front of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) downtown , was praised for filing a complaint against Grand Chief Arlen Dumas with the Winnipeg Police Service.
“We feel the pain of the victim, who should be supported to be safe in this house (of AMC),” said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a local advocate for Indigenous women and chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle.
APTN News is not naming the woman. Her allegation has not been tested nor proven in court.
Dumas was suspended March 18 at an emergency meeting of AMC while it conducts an internal investigation.
He has not commented publicly on the allegation or his suspension; Eric Redhead, chief of Shamattawa First Nation, was named interim grand chief on Monday.
Passing vehicles honked their horns as the boisterous crowd of about 30 cheered as speakers condemned the AMC for the way it has supported Dumas.
The grand chief was accused in 2019 of inappropriately messaging some First Nations women on social media, an allegation he denied.
No sitting chiefs, who are members of the AMC and elect the grand chief to a three-year term, were seen at the rally.
Sophie Lockhart, a band councillor on Fox Lake Cree Nation located approximately 1,000 km north of Winnipeg, waved a sign that said, “Arlen Dumas must go!”
“Why are our leaders not here?” asked Anderson-Pyrz as the crowd cheered.
Anderson-Pyrz also questioned what measures AMC put in place after Dumas returned to his post following the texting scandal in 2019.
“He needs to step down, he’s in a position of trust,” she said. “And that trust has been (allegedly) breached.”
Geraldine Shingoose, a prominent First Nations elder who helped organize the rally lasting about two hours, called for Dumas to resign.
She waited until the crowd stopped chanting, “Arlen must go! Arlen must go!” before continuing.
“I can’t understand why our women have to hide their identity (after they make an allegation),” she added. “She (the female employee) should be here, too.”
Shingoose said the patriarchal nature of the AMC needs to change.
She said the impact of colonization and the federal Indian Act wrongly removed women and grandmothers from leadership roles in First Nations communities.
She said clan mothers and grandmothers should be restored to their rightful place within First Nations and the AMC, which represents chiefs of 62 First Nations in Manitoba (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation is not a member).
Shingoose called for an inquiry into the way AMC operates and manages its chiefs.
Matthew Shorting, the former boyfriend of one of the women in the texting scandal, described what happened to him after he spoke out in 2019.
He told the rally he was fired from his job at an agency funded by AMC. He also received “a cease and desist” letter from an AMC lawyer to stop speaking publicly about the issue, which he shared with APTN News at the time.
APTN reported on receiving a similar letter at the time. APTN was also banned from receiving AMC communications – an order still in effect today.
AMC said in a statement it has hired Winnipeg law firm, Tapper Cuddy LLP, to lead its investigation into the latest allegations against Dumas, which include a complaint of harassment and sexual harassment by the same woman who accused Dumas of sexual assault.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is described as touching a person in any way that interferes with their sexual integrity, including kissing, touching, intercourse or any other sexual activity without his or her consent.
The woman, who is a senior staff member at AMC, alleged in a letter to AMC officials that the political lobby group has an “unhealthy workplace culture” where she “felt harassed” by Dumas since her second day on the job.
“My personal experience of (alleged) harassment and (alleged) sexual misconduct has created an unsafe work environment where I have been (allegedly) subjugated to gender-based violence,” she wrote.
She suggested Dumas had breached his code of conduct detailed in the AMC constitution.
Ben Dubois, who runs a men’s counselling group in Winnipeg, was one of two men to address the rally. He told the crowd Indigenous men know they have to do better.
“Men are working to heal…without funding…in little pockets of groups around the city,” he said.
“This has set us back years.”
A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations in Ottawa, which funds the AMC, said Minister Marc Miller had no comment.
“Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) will not be commenting at this time as this is currently an internal matter,” said Jennifer Cooper in an email.
Editor’s note: This story was updated 24/03/22 to add comment from the office of Crown-Indigenous Relations