An open letter signed by more than a dozen people, including Indigenous elders, provincial politicians, and local advocates, is asking the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) to change their approach to investigating allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that have been levelled against its suspended grand chief.
“We the undersigned urge you to consider the impact of your handling of the matter of the Grand Chief Arlen Dumas for today and for the generations to come with respect to women, who have courageously filed complaints about him to the Winnipeg Police,” the letter states. “Your decisions impact not only today, but for generations to come.”
The open letter, which was released on Monday, is signed by 14 signatories including NDP MLAs Nahanni Fontaine and Bernadette Smith, Elder and residential school survivor Geraldine Shingoose, and longtime advocate for the safety and rights of Indigenous women Sandra DeLaronde, who has served as co-chair of Manitoba’s MMIWG2S+ Coalition.
It comes after two separate allegations of sexual assault were levelled against Dumas in the last year.
After a sexual assault allegation, and news of a criminal complaint to Winnipeg police came to light in March, the AMC said that they would be investigating the complaint and that Dumas would be suspended from his role while the investigation was being carried out.
News of a second allegation of sexual assault against Dumas and a “third party” complaint made to WPS was confirmed by WPS on June 2. According to information found on the WPS website, third party reporting offers the option of reporting the details of their case anonymously to the WPS through a third-party community-based victim services agency but “is not a substitute for providing a formal statement to the police.”
In the letter, the signatories say that if the AMC wants to prove they take allegations against Dumas seriously and take accusers seriously, they must now change their approach to the investigation of the allegations.
“We acknowledge and commend that the AMC has consistently taken a strong and principled position on the MMIWG2S+ issue for many years working alongside advocates to create the MMIWG2S+ committee, to ensure that the lives of Indigenous women and girls matter, and put an end to our dehumanization within our society,” the letter states “We also acknowledge the strength of AMC’s position in its final presentation to the National Inquiry.
“We see this as an opportunity for the AMC Chiefs to put these words into action.”
The group says they are now asking that AMC set up an “independent commission of inquiry,” that would bring outside parties into their investigation.
“We urge you the AMC Chiefs to consider the victims, engage in a process that is trauma-informed and independently managed,” the letter states.
Dumas has not been charged with any crime, and no allegations against him have been tested in court.
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to AMC for comment on the open letter, and in an email sent on Wednesday, an AMC spokesperson said they were referring all media to a July 7 AMC media release.
The release said they hope to have their own investigation completed by the end of June, and they could not make any decision on permanently removing Dumas from the position before completing that investigation.
They also said they could not bring any outside groups or parties into their current investigation.
“There are several advocates that have offered assistance with this process,” the release states. “The AMC appreciates their well-meaning intentions; however, the AMC is required to maintain the complainant’s confidentiality.
“The AMC secretariat has legal obligations that it must adhere to when a formal complaint is made. As the investigation is currently in progress, the AMC cannot undertake any process that would jeopardize its legal obligations in relation to the investigation.”
Dumas has, so far not commented publicly about any allegations made this year, or his suspension.
Attempts by the Sun to reach Dumas for comment were unsuccessful.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun