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