10 Reasons Why Senator Lynn Beyak Needed to be Removed From The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples

Lynn BeyakRacism is alive and well in Canada – look no further than Canada’s own Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak. The Senator from Northwestern Ontario became quite the controversy by making some insensitive and disrespectful remarks invalidating the traumatic experiences of residential school survivors. Senator Beyak used to sit on the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, the committee responsible for advising the Canadian Senate on Indigenous issues. In case you missed it, Senator Beyak was recently removed from the committee by the Senate Conservative caucus. Her removal came amid calls for her resignation from Indigenous leaders, communities and the public alike. If you’re still unsure as to why Senator Beyak was removed, Not Your Average Indian has got you covered with some great arguments behind why the Senator didn’t belong on a government committee that deals with Indigenous issues.

1) She Thinks Dating A Native Guy is All the Education She Needs

Today, on White People Say the Darndest Things: Senator Beyak is quoted as saying “I don’t need any more education. I’ve been involved [with Indigenous peoples] since we double dated when I was 15 with an Aboriginal fellow and his wife,” Palm-to-face. No Lynn, going on a “double date” with an “Aboriginal fellow” does not mean you’re now fully educated on Indigenous issues. How is this even an argument? Somehow Senator Beyak has got it in her head that she is far more enlightened than the thousands of Indigenous students who continue to fill up spaces of higher learning with the intention of gaining more insight into our own history, the effects of colonization and the various pathways to liberation. Even Indigenous people who live Indigenous lives and have uniquely Indigenous experiences, still actively learn about colonization. Not Senator Beyak though – she’s good. A couple dates are all she needs to grasp the many complexities of the Indigenous experience and colonial reality. Is this real life?

2) She Uses Residential Schools as a Platform to Critique Indigenous Financial Competency

Apparently, by discrediting residential schools and glorifying the “good ole days” of assimilation, all Senator Beyak is trying to do is draw attention to what she feels is a need for a financial audit of every single penny coming in and out of our reserves. In this video, Beyak describes how she feels that funds directed to Indigenous communities aren’t being properly delivered to the “people”. Not really sure how she’s connecting that issue to residential schools. Regardless, this straw man critique is nothing new, rhetoric like this is all too common amongst Conservatives who push a damaging narrative of overpaid corrupt chiefs squandering away government funds while the grassroots people suffer. Mi’kmaq political commentator Pam Palmater has critically analyzed this myth, calling it nothing more then “a strategic ploy engaged to do two very important and dangerous things: (a) to deflect attention away from the current crisis in our communities which was created and extended by Canada and (b) to divide our people and communities irrevocably”. We see what you’re up to Senator, luckily you got caught before you could cause any more damage.

3) She’s Convinced She Suffered Along Side Residential School Survivors

Senator Beyak actually said this: “I’ve suffered with them up there. I appreciate their suffering more than they’ll ever know.” My bad Beyak, I actually didn’t know that for the sake of assimilation you were forced to give up your children, your language, your culture, your spirituality, your freedom and your land. I also didn’t know you suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of “God’s servants”. How could we have missed that? Oh right, cause it never happened to you. 

4) She Pushes a “Get Over It” Rhetoric

Let’s make one thing very clear: by attempting to overshadow the grim realities of residential school with the positive experiences of some students, Senator Beyak is clearly trying to persuade Canadians that the schools weren’t that bad. This in turn tempts Canadians to ask the incessant question, “Why can’t you just get over it?” Well, for starters: we’re still being screwed with. Our children are still being taken from us in larger numbers than ever before, we still don’t have full and complete jurisdictional control over our lands and we are still battling Canada in court to restitute our stolen lands. So in reality, how are we supposed to move forward on anything when colonialism is an ongoing process that is still disrupting our lives? More to the point of residential schools, why should we get over it? As Senator Murray Sinclair so elegantly put it, Canadians commemorate WWII and Americans are still hurting over 9/11, so why can’t we remember? It would be nice if people like Senator Beyak could simply take their colonial hypocrisies and bug off.

5) Because We Asked Her To, She Wouldn’t Listen

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook and happen to have plenty of Indigenous friends or even some woke non-Indigenous folks then odds are you’ve noticed we’re pretty pissed off about Senator Beyak’s dangerous, harmful and bullshit remarks. There were four online petitions asking Senator Beyak to resign. Respected Indigenous leaders including Romeo Saganash, Alvin Fiddler, Francis Kavanaugh and Lillian Dyck all called for Beyak’s resignation. Here’s the thing: as a white settler who thinks dating a native guy at was 15 was a significant Indigenous experience, why was Beyak ever allowed to be on this committee and why was she allowed to refuse Indigenous leaders and communities requests to resign? It’s mind boggling. Beyak sat on a committee reserved to advise the Senate on Indigenous issues. Indigenous leaders and communities asked her to resign. Why resist? Oh right, white settler entitlement.

6) She’s a Huge Fan of the White Paper AKA Assimilation

How is it 2017 and we’re still dealing with this shit? Here’s a brief history lesson for those of you who don’t know: in 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his sidekick Jean Chrétien drafted what is now known as the White Paper. In most basic terms, this paper aimed to do away with the legal nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous nations and in turn assimilate us into Canadian citizens just like everyone else. We Indigenous people weren’t having any of that, so Indigenous leadership at the time got together and drafted the Red Paper, a counter to the White Paper that basically said “naw, Canada”. Ultimately, Trudeau and his best bud Chrétien realized the White Paper wasn’t gonna fly and dropped it.

Fast forward 48 years, we now have Senator Lynn Beyak, known to us as the Great White white washer of History. Beyak “innocently” argues that the drafters of the White Paper were well intentioned, only aspiring for “us to be Canadians together”: to own private property and make individual decisions with our own cash and to preserve as Beyak says, “our own culture, in our own time, on our own dime.” Sounds legit, what could be wrong with that? Well folks, that’s called assimilation and assimilation forces Indigenous people to forget nationhood, to forget our economic systems, to forget our concepts of collective ownership and to be one with Canada at the expense of our identities and our lands. It also expects us to preserve our culture “in our own time, on our own dime” without taking into account and atoning for everything Canada has done to violently suppress that culture. Obviously, we weren’t interested then and I would argue the majority of us aren’t interested now. We dealt with this shit ages ago. Ain’t nobody got time for that now. Bye Beyak.

7) Alternative Facts and Fake News

Senator Lynn Beyak is following a trend made popular by the Trump administration, that sees Conservatives feel completely emboldened to just make shit up. Beyak completely disregards what Indigenous peoples have been saying for decades and instead chooses to rely on what her so called Indigenous “friends” have told her.  Beyak’s misinformed opinions on the realities of residential school discredit the immense work of the TRC and disrespect the sincere testimonies of the survivors. But wait: there’s more. In response to her critics, Senator Beyak has responded by saying we live in an “era of fake news and exaggeration,” obviously attempting to discredit any negative media coverage of her words as well as the media’s coverage of residential school history and the TRC. Her “fake news” rhetoric is another troubling Trump trend all about discrediting the media when you don’t agree with their coverage. We’re seeing this more and more: white politicians who aren’t getting coverage that makes them feel good about themselves simply label the media as fake. It’s laughable but also really frightening how easily white politicians can disregard the entire media apparatus the second the narrative shifts away from stroking the ego of white society. What’s that called again? White supremacy? White privilege?

8) Her End-All Solution: A National Referendum

What happens when you apparently know everything and refuse to educate yourself further on Indigenous issues? You come up with awful solutions for the problems you think Indigenous people face. Senator Beyak is calling for a national referendum asking every Indigenous person over the age of 12 what exactly it is that they want. Beyak believes this is necessary because current Indigenous organizations that she labels as the “Indian Industry” do not communicate with their grassroots people and are unable to get over their disagreements, ensuring that Indigenous women and children suffer. First off, how can someone who sits on, or should we say sat on, an Indigenous committee demean Indigenous political organizations by referring to them as an industry? Our organizations are just as legitimate as Canadian political organizations, which coincidentally don’t get seem to get along all that well either. Why the double standard? Could it be because Beyak is simply trying to divert attention away from Canada’s own shortcomings? Gonna go with a yes on that one. Second, Beyak’s proposed referendum is useless. For almost 150 years we’ve been telling Canada what we want, from calls for land restitution to justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Canada has repeatedly ignored us and has ineffectively altered and fought against our demands. Ultimately, Canada doesn’t give a shit and when it acts like it does, it doesn’t give enough of a shit. Quick question, Senator: if we do have a referendum and the majority of us decide we want our lands back or comparable restitution, what then? Will you support us?

9) She Commends “Christian Aboriginals”

There is nothing wrong with being Christian and Indigenous. To each their own. However, we can’t discuss the conversion of Indigenous peoples to Christianity without including violence and coercion as tools of that conversion. For many Indigenous converts choosing Christianity was not a free decision or one made naturally. Senator Beyak seems to think that the conversion process was for the most part well-intended and should be celebrated today. At one point in Senator Beyak’s horrendous speech she goes on a little tangent commending “Christian Aboriginals” as being “inspiring and uplifting” as their lives are “filled with joy, love and the peace that passes all understanding”. Beyak makes it a point to highlight how these “Christian Aboriginals” are forgiving and how we should seek to forgive those who purposely caused us harm during the residential school era. What Beyak fails to mention is how residential schools were a tool used to coerce Indigenous children and families into adopting the Christian faith. The intention was not generous inclusion in the Christian faith but the break-up of Indigenous families, communities, spiritual and political traditions. Instead, Beyak speaks to residential schools as though she wholeheartedly agrees with the Christianizing project and ultimately the end goal of the schools themselves: the destruction of Indigeneity. Beyak’s tangent makes it seem as though Indigenous people can only be inspiring, uplifting, joyful, loving, peaceful and forgiving if we are Christian. That’s the exact same assimilationist rhetoric that was used during the residential school era and has no business in government today.

10) She Completely Gaslights Residential School Survivors

For those that don’t know, “gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity”. Senator Beyak’s fictitious retelling of history is textbook gaslighting. She puts forward an alternative historical account to residential school survivors’ testimonies in an attempt to make Indigenous communities question our historical reality of intergenerational residential school trauma. Equally frustrating is how Beyak’s use of gaslighting techniques convinces non-Indigenous settlers that they’ve been misinformed on what really went on at residentials schools, inciting widespread denial of Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples. Gaslighters often do what they do to seek power. It’s therefore not surprising that Senator Beyak’s narratives works to preserve an alternative narrative of the Residential School system, by trying to preserve the power of white-christian society in Canada by absolving it of any wrongdoing and placing the onus upon Indigenous nations to resolve their “irrational” anger.

Although Senator Beyak has been removed from the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, she remains a member of the Canadian Senate and continues to have a platform to spout her harmful and misinformed opinions. We must continue to hold politicians like Senator Beyak accountable for what they say and advocate for their removal whenever they cause harm from their positions of power. Remember as well that Beyak is not alone in her sentiments and opinions, individuals like Senator Beyak represent the face of ongoing colonialism, racism and ignorance towards Indigenous peoples in this country. It exists, start dealing with it Canada.

Follow the author of Not Your Average Indian on Twitter @shadyhfz and Instagram @shadfez.

Edited by Sarah Boivin. Find her on Twitter @sarahboiv.

One thought on “10 Reasons Why Senator Lynn Beyak Needed to be Removed From The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples

  1. Fantastic analysis and response to Senator Beyak. When I read the first report of her comments I didn’t take action, largely because of your point above, 5) Because We Asked Her To, She Wouldn’t Listen. I thought all the responses by Indigenous leaders and groups would be enough to deal with the matter and didn’t think my input as an ally was necessary, I was obviously wrong and greatly underestimated the depths of Beyak’s ignorance and bigotry. So when I read her later interview with CBC where she doubled-down on her comments, refusing to listen to those Indigenous voices I got furious and wrote her a letter. A few hours after I posted the letter in the mail, another CBC report came out that increased my fury. So I sent her an email with additional criticisms, and included my posted letter attached as a pdf. Below I’ve copied my email and letter to her. I haven’t received any reply from her yet, and doubt I will.
    ***
    To Senator Lynn Beyak: 29 March 2017
    I have attached a letter I wrote to you and sent by Canada Post yesterday. I sent that hard copy so that I could receive a formal reply from you in writing in order to document your position in the same way you are collecting letters written in support of your position.
    I am now sending you this email because I want to make a few additional comments after reading the latest CBC report, “Conservative senators come to Lynn Beyak’s defence while others say ‘shame’”, which was published yesterday, March 28, after I posted my letter to you.
    I am especially disturbed by your continued insistence that you don’t “need any more education” on the issue of Indian Residential Schools. That is an astounding position for a Senator to take on any issue, let alone this most crucial matter facing Canadian society.
    Education ought to be a lifelong endeavour, as no one ever knows all there is to know about a subject. Even the TRC’s Final Report did not include everything there is to know and learn. But it is as if you are saying your mind is made up and you don’t want to be confused by any new facts you might learn. While you are certainly entitled to the freedom to voice your opinions, you are not entitled to “alternative facts” or to white-wash or downplay historical facts based on your incomplete knowledge.
    Education is at the heart of, and the key to, meaningful reconciliation with the First Nations. As the TRC wrote in its Preface to its Final Report, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.” The TRC’s Call To Action #57, in particular, speaks directly to the issue of educating public servants such as yourself:
    57. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to
    public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential
    schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and
    Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based
    training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
    You apparently outright dismiss that Action as applying to yourself, which you are free to do. But worse, your publicly expressed attitude as a Senator is undermining the reconciliation process, which is unethical given your position on the Aboriginal Peoples committee.
    That CBC report I cite above is evidence that your public comments have gained the support of some of your Conservative colleagues. And I have no doubt that some conservative Canadians are using your public comments to justify their own refusal to educate themselves on the issues. In other words, you are deliberately and publicly undermining the reconciliation process. I believe that makes you unfit to remain on the Aboriginal Peoples committee. I urge you to give up your seat on that committee and spend the time you gain by truly listening to your critics and more fully educating yourself.
    sincerely,
    Perry Bulwer
    *****
    Perry Bulwer March 28, 2017
    [address removed]
    Port Alberni, BC
    Senator Lynn Beyak
    the Senate of Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A4
    Senator Beyak:
    I am greatly dismayed and disappointed by your comments reported in the media regarding the victims and survivors of Indian Residential Schools, especially given your position on the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee.
    While it is true that a small minority of the approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children forced into Residential Schools found some benefits there, their experiences in no way balance out the extremely negative experiences of the majority. Furthermore, many who reported some positive benefits still had many negative consequences in their own lives and the lives of their children. Recently deceased Ojibwe writer, Richard Wagamese, wrote of that intergenerational trauma in his essay, Returning To Harmony.
    Given your insistence on the benefits you claim so many children received in Residential School, you would no doubt include Mr. Wagamese’s mother as one of those children who had positive experiences. However, here is what Mr. Wagamese wrote about his mother’s experience:
    “All the members of my family attended residential school. They returned to the land bearing
    psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical burdens that haunted them. Even my mother,
    despite staunch declarations that she had learned good things there (finding Jesus, learning to
    keep a house, the gospel), carried wounds she could not voice. Each of them had experienced
    an institution that tried to scrape the Indian off of their insides, and they came back to the bush
    and river raw, sore, and aching. The pain they bore was invisible and unspoken. It seeped into t
    their spirit, oozing its poison and blinding them from the incredible healing properties within their
    Indian ways.”
    Mr. Wagamese did not attend Residential School himself, but describes himself as a victim of it because he was one of the approximately 20,000 Aboriginal children who were part of the Sixties Scoop assimilation policy. My brother and one of my sisters were also victims of that policy, having been adopted by my parents as infants less than a year old. That policy was an extension of the objective of Indian Residential Schools, which Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin referred to in a 2015 speech as “cultural genocide”, citing Canada’s first Prime Minister who said the goal was to “take the Indian out of the child”. Mr Wagamese wrote:
    “I am a victim of Canada’s residential school system. When I say victim, I mean something
    substantially different than “Survivor.” I never attended a residential school, so I cannot say that I
    survived one. However, my parents and my extended family members did. The pain they endured
    became my pain, and I became a victim.”
    You have stated that those involved with Residential Schools had good intentions. I find it difficult to see how the goal of assimilation and cultural genocide was a good intention. I also remind you of the common saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
    In your most recent CBC interview you stated: “The best way to heal is to move forward together. Not to blame, not to point fingers, not to live in the past.” That is such a disrespectful comment, as so many of your comments on this issue have been. It is very disingenous of you to imply that your critics, Aboriginal people and their allies, do not want to heal or move forward, that they only want to blame and live in the past. Nothing can be further from the truth. But white-washing and downplaying the crimes committed against tens of thousands of Aboriginal families, their children, and subsequent generations is not the way to heal and move forward. Your position and comments are contrary to the spirit of true reconciliation, and a return to harmony.
    Your insistence that you do not need anymore education on this issue, your defiant attitude and refusal to understand what your critics are saying to you suggest to me that you are not an appropriate member of the Senate to be sitting on the Aboriginal Peoples committee. However, you have made it clear you have no intention of resigning your position on that committee, so I doubt my letter will make any difference to you. Nevertheless, I hope you will not dismiss it and toss it aside.
    In a CBC report you are quoted as saying: “We have 700 letters, we’ll make it a binder, we’ll make it all available.” I assume you mean letters that support you. I hope you will also include in that binder letters that are critical of your position, such as mine, as well as official statements, such as the open letter from the Anglican Church of Canada; see:
    http://www.anglican.ca/news/nothing-good-open-letter-canadian-senator-lynn-beyak/30018179/
    Sincerely,
    Perry Bulwer

    Like

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