By Chris Marchand
It’s obvious that Senator Lynn Beyak persists on her chosen path because she has no shortage of people telling her she’s got it right. Not very many are prepared to admit that in public though.
I’ve spent the last week down the rabbit hole of my own racial identity searching for insights on where this is all coming from.
Honestly, it’s not all that great a leap for me to get into her headspace.
It’s a bit like putting on old musty clothes that have sat in a drawer since high school — some of them might still fit, but they’re uncomfortable and you wouldn’t go out on the street in them. Still, there’s an attractive nostalgia in the way they smell of a time when I was better-looking and more sure of my place in the world.
I think Senator Beyak reveals much about herself in her frequent efforts to speak on the virtues of evangelical Christianity (which still holds a surprising amount of influence in remote First Nations communities). Proponents of dogmatic religions often have difficulty seeing the problem with telling other people how to live their lives. It’s kind of what they do, even when over a century of doing it has led to some disastrous results for Indigenous people.
That kind of paternalism is built into settler culture in ways we are often blind to. The mainstream reveres, above all others, the self-made person who through their wits and perseverance overcomes great odds and overwhelming obstacles to improve their station in life.
The doctrine of ‘personal responsibility’ is a deeply-lodged dogmatic part of regional Caucasian identity.
‘You will never get to where you want to be until you stop blaming others for your problems.’
That’s the message I hear dog-whistling through Senator Beyak’s press releases, behind closed doors with other white people, even in the back of my own mind from time to time.
I think that philosophy is a pretty good one at a personal level, but it gets problematic when you try saying it to anyone but yourself, and especially when you try to apply it to an entire race of people to whom you are bound by historical obligations.
As laughably misguided as it is to hear a wealthy white woman tell Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to cash in their status for a settlement and abandon the goal of a self-determined destiny, the Senator knows that those raised around her particular worldview struggle with the unease of agreeing with at least some of what she says.
That unease is healthy. It tells you something is very wrong.
Because why wouldn’t all Indigenous people want to be just like us? Why shouldn’t their goals and values be the same as ours? Are we not the measure of success to which they should aspire? After all we’ve done for them…
If you can’t detect the conceit in these notions, well, then you either haven’t been paying attention, or you have bigger problems.
Senator Beyak may even be sincere in thinking she’s cutting the B.S. and taking a stand in the face of political correctness run amuck. To me she’s come to represent that cartoonish level of conceit, the very spirit of blind cultural dominance that we know is alive and well here in Dryden, in Northwestern Ontario and in the chambers of Canada’s Senate. — Chris Marchand