‘I felt powerless’: Woman who says Arlen Dumas sent her inappropriate messages calls for accountability

A Lake Manitoba First Nation woman says she wasn’t surprised to hear new allegations of harassment and sexual assault leveled against a prominent Manitoba grand chief.

Nearly three years ago, Bethany Maytwayashing went public with allegations that Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas had sent her inappropriate messages. Last week, Dumas was suspended in light of new allegations of harassment and assault from someone AMC has identified as a senior staff member. Dumas has not been formally charged by Winnipeg police. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“I honestly felt a lot of relief when I heard another woman come forward,” Maytwayashing said.

The 25-year-old is no longer living in Manitoba and has moved to Vancouver Island. She says she hates to say it, but this latest allegation has given her story more credibility. Maytwayashing says after she came forward with her story, people blamed her, gaslit her, and bullied her online.

“No one really believed me,” she said. “Honestly, I hope that something is done about it now.”

Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook says ‘old boys club atmosphere’ is not part of traditional Indigenous governance structures. (Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief/Submitted)

Dumas has denied that he was trying to start a relationship with Maytwayashing and has said that his communication style was misinterpreted.

But she says he should have known better. She was new to Winnipeg at the time, young and just beginning to learn about her culture. Maytwayashing says she believes Dumas saw her vulnerability and took advantage of his position of power as grand chief.

Maytwayashing says she’d like to see a return to traditional ways where women were consulted in leadership decisions.

“This patriarchal society system is not working for us, it’s doing a lot of harm to us and it has for generations,” she said. “I think we need to go back to our matriarchy and let women lead by example.”

‘The residue of colonization’

CBC Manitoba has heard from women chiefs who say they have experienced misogyny but weren’t comfortable speaking on record.

Reporters contacted nine Manitoba chiefs, one former chief and one regional chief who are women. Only one of them returned CBC’s request for comment.

In an email, Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook said the “old boys club atmosphere” is not limited to First Nations politics.

“It is part of the residue of colonization and not part of our traditional governance structures,” Cook wrote. “I see and am part of a return to more traditional forms of governance that are more balanced and welcoming than the colonized forms we had imposed on us.”

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation member and sociology professor Cora Voyageur says from Harvey Weinstein to Jeffrey Epstein, it’s clear abuses of power are not unique to the Indigenous community. (Submitted by Cora Voyageur)

When colonizers arrived in North America they brought their own set of social structures with them. Patriarchy was built into the Indian Act and those imposed rules disrupted traditional societies’ ways of being, says Cora Voyageur, a member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and sociology professor at the University of Calgary.

Voyageur says the pressures and expectations on women have only increased over the years, and gender and racism have compounded to make matters even worse.

“I believe that the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, this comes from a colonial foundation,” Voyageur said. “The idea that women weren’t that important and women could be treated badly.”

But Traveler says there’s hope. The number of women Indigenous leaders is growing, and so are calls for accountability.

“There’s a saying that women hold up half the sky — there’s the responsibility for the community and this responsibility for future generations that we are going to make things better,” she said. “A lot of what the women say is not popular, it’s not easy to hear, but it’s being said.”

Chief Cook says it’s on leaders to conduct themselves with respect and dignity in order to be effective.

“We have no shortage of good leaders in our communities and we do not have to settle for less,” she wrote.

‘Do better’

Looking back, Maytwayashing says speaking out about what happened to her was “a terrible experience.” She says at the time, she received messages from people telling her she had their support but they didn’t want to speak out for fear of the repercussions.

“And that hurt,” she said. “Because I felt powerless.”

After Maytwayashing spoke out in 2019, Dumas took a brief leave of absence from his leadership role with the assembly to undergo counseling and professional sensitivity training.

CBC requested comment from AMC on whether an investigation was done in 2019 and whether the sensitivity training was completed but did not receive a response before deadline.

Maytwayashing says she has made peace with her situation and doesn’t expect she’ll be getting an apology from Dumas.

She says what she wants is for him to finally hold himself accountable.

“I wanted him to show that he can admit he was wrong,” Maytwayashing said. “I hope that he can look at his own behavior to this woman because they worked together. I would love that for her.”

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