When Grand Chief Arlen Dumas was five years old he was in a plane crash. He was with a cousin who was around the same age as him, along with his grandmother, mother and aunt. Although everyone survived, Dumas suffered a back injury that wasn’t diagnosed until years later.

The teenaged Dumas was playing football for his high school when he sustained an injury and hurt his back. It was then that a doctor realized he had a historic injury where one of his vertebrae in his lower back was compacted. The only thing he could chalk it up to was the plane crash he was in as a child.

He recalls having a lot of pain as he grew but everyone said it was just growing pains. And so he lived with this injury.

It is this tenaciousness that drives Dumas in all that he does.

He was just 31 when he was first elected as chief of Mathias Colomb First Nation. His platform? To get his community out of co-management — which he succeeded at doing. Now, as Grand Chief, he has submitted a proposal to Indigenous and Northern Affairs to get all First Nations in Manitoba out of third-party management.

Raised by his grandparents in Pukatawagan, Dumas is a fluent Cree speaker. It is clear that he loves his language and often speaks in Cree with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ cultural advisor and childhood friend Parry Francois — who both say some things are just funnier in Cree.

Dumas attended Mount Allison University in, Sackville, N.B., where he studied political science and Canadian studies before being called back home to be with family.

He has also served in various roles with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, including as vice-chief. He has also served on various committees with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs before his unprecedented election win. Dumas won on first ballot with 33 out of 54 possible votes.