By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A crowd gathered in downtown Winnipeg on Monday to show support for women and girls who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and to demand that the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) immediately and permanently step down from his role after being accused of sexual assault.
“People trusted him, our people, our girls, our two-spirited people trusted him, and that trust has been breached more than one time,” Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said about recently suspended AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas while speaking at a rally in front of the AMC head office on Portage Avenue on Monday morning.
“I think he needs to step down. How can he stand in a leadership role?”
Monday’s rally was held after reports surfaced last Thursday that Dumas has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who is reported to have worked with AMC, an organization that represents and advocates for 62 First Nations across Manitoba.
On Friday, Winnipeg Police confirmed they have received a complaint against Dumas and that an incident number has been created.
As well on Friday AMC’s Executive Council confirmed that Dumas, who has served as Grand Chief since 2017, has been suspended pending an investigation that they said will be “impartial, neutral and objective.”
No criminal charges have been laid against Dumas, and the allegations have not been tested in court.
Dumas was also accused of inappropriate conduct back in 2019, as he took a temporary leave of absence from his role as Grand Chief after being accused of sending unwanted text and social media messages to Bethany Maytwayashing, a woman who says she received numerous unwanted messages from Dumas including one that asked if they could “meet up.”
During Monday’s rally chants of “Arlen must go” broke out among the crowd on several occasions, and some at the rally held signs with messages including “Arlen Dumas must go” and “Shame on you Arlen Dumas.”
Anderson-Pyrz is a long-time advocate for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people and an expert on sexual and gender-based violence, and she told the crowd that gathered on Monday morning that Indigenous women and girls must continue to fight back against violence, and she said that fight must be “relentless.”
“What is happening here with all of us gathering is just the beginning,” Anderson-Pyrz said. “This is not going to end, and we are going to continue fighting for transformative change within our nations and within our leadership.
“We must be relentless and we can’t stop. We have many generations relying on us to bring that change.”
Anderson-Pyrz is now calling on Dumas to step down as Grand Chief, and is also calling on AMC to take immediate steps to assist anyone who claims to have been victimized by Dumas, and to make the AMC workplace a place where women and all people feel safe.
She also wants any and all victims of gender-based violence to know there are places they can go to reach out for help and support.
“I am here to tell all the survivors here today and in our communities you are loved, you are not alone, and what happened to you is not your fault,” she said.
In addition to Dumas’s suspension, AMC announced on Friday that their Personnel and Finance Committees will review the existing workplace harassment policies and make amendments to them, and also review the current provisions of the AMC Constitution and identify proposed amendments for consideration by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
Advocate for Indigenous women and girls Thelma Morrisseau also spoke at Monday’s rally, and called it “unacceptable” that so many Indigenous women continue to live in fear of violence and harassment.
“Why is it our women, our girls cannot walk and feel free and be safe in our communities regardless of where we are?” Morrisseau asked the crowd.
“It is not OK, it is not acceptable. Gender-based violence is never acceptable and the mothers and aunties and grandmothers that are here today are going to make that loud and clear.”
In a Friday statement AMC said they would be making no further comments about the allegations because of the “nature of the matter.”
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.