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By Chris Marchand
Senator Lynn Beyak stood her ground last week after comments she made to the Senate on Canada’s Residential School System drew sharp criticism, demands for her resignation as well as her removal from the Senate’s Aboriginal People’s Committee.
Beyak’s presentation of ‘a different side of the residential school story’ came during a discussion of the overepresentation of Indigenous women in the prison system.
A statement from Beyak’s office blamed the uproar on ‘the era of fake news and exaggeration’ and that Beyak has “…stated unequivocally, many times over the years, in noting certain positive aspects of residential schools, as also recorded in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, one can never excuse or minimize the suffering that victims have experienced.”
Back in Beyak’s native Northwestern Ontario, home to nine former Indian Residential School sites, community leaders are having difficulty processing how to handle the senator’s comments.
The Sioux Lookout Mayor’s Committee for Truth and Reconciliation says the incident does not help foster understanding at the community level.
“Recent statements by Senator Beyak from Dryden, hinders the movement of healing and development of relationships with Indigenous people,” read a statement from the committee. “Coming from someone in a leadership position, the statements may give license to others with similar or more extreme views to distort both truth and reconciliation. They have opened old wounds, and have created undue stress for survivors and their families.”
In Dryden itself, it’s an important week for the Dryden Area Anti-Racism Committee (DAARN) who staged a screening of the animated film ‘Secret Path’ in conjunction with the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The film tells the tale of the lonely death of Chanie Wenjack, who died of exposure after running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora in 1966.
DAARN’s Leanna Bullock says the group hopes the film helps to bridge some gaps in empathy and understanding on the issue of Canada’s Residential School System with non-Indigenous people in the community.
As for the local senator’s remarks, Bullock says they don’t do anything to help nurture trust and eliminate the divide in understanding that can exist between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
“We thought that it was well-intentioned, but misguided,” said Bullock. “It didn’t deal with the issue she was supposed to speak on and she went off on a different path for some reason.”
The full text of Beyak’s speech can be found online here: https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/102db_2017-03-07-e#80.