New Year, same old racism

As January comes to an end we find ourselves in the midst of strange days. The world has marked the anniversary of Trumpism alongside the events of the #MeToo movement. While the politics of division aren’t as pronounced in Canada as they are in the States, make no mistake that divisions do exist. Here in Canada, we tend to practice a more subtle racism, often couched with kind words and good intentions, making it harder identify. Case in point: Senator Lynn Beyak.

Despite the start of a new year, Senator Beyak continues to cling to her old ways. Her insistence that residential schools were a well-intentioned policy practice led to her to post letters from Canadians supporting her position on her Parliamentary website.  On a Government of Canada website.  Letter writers characterized Indigenous people as lazy, waiting around for government handouts. This latest fiasco resulted in Senator Beyak’s dismissal from the Conservative National Caucus on January 4 (some will argue that her dismissal was for insubordination rather than just being plain old racist but that is neither here nor there).

Let me be clear: even though Lynn Beyak was removed from senate committees and then Conservative National Caucus, she still very much remains a senator with full salary and pension included. Despite the bad taste she leaves with Canadians including Conservatives, her mere presence in Canada’s Senate gives voice and rank to those that want to perpetuate racist stereotypes of Indigenous people. And racism is not a political issue, it is a human rights issue – to be free from discrimination.  To be free from discrimination on a Government of Canada website.

Senator Beyak’s son, Nick who is a municipal politician in Dryden, Ontario, would like us to believe that the viewpoints shared by his mother, are also widely shared by “… the majority of Canadians.” So confident is he in his assertion, he claims the Conservatives will suffer in the next election for muzzling his mother and bowing to “political correctness”.

Do I believe this to be true? Not at all.

Unlike Nick Beyak, every day I get to work with Canadians who want to learn more about Canada’s hidden history when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous people. Residential schools and the policy behind it was not benevolent or beneficial. Had Ms. Beyak bothered to check HANSARD, the official record of Parliamentary debate, she would find many quotes from politicians of that day talking about the “Indian problem”. The fact is that deaths in residential schools were termed a good end, a “final solution”.   Residential schools were the solution to eliminating the “Indian problem”. If there are rare instances where Indigenous boys and girls made it through the system without being abused, it was by accident, not by intention.  There was no good intent here.  Just like there was no good intent in any genocide.

Every day I work with Canadians who want to challenge the negative stereotypes they learned as children and hear as adults. They understand that racism doesn’t have to be overt to hurt. They understand that the everyday subtleties of racism (isolation, segregation, rumours, misinformation) can have far more lasting impacts.  They understand that covering up history is actually causing current harm, because lies are simply lies.  The people I work with are looking for tools to help them challenge old ways of thinking and spread asset based ways of talking about and engaging with Indigenous people in this country.

The re-emergence of racism and division shall not defeat us. Rome (Ottawa?) wasn’t built in a day and like all things worth fighting for, combatting racism against Indigenous people requires continued persistence in standing up to bigotry and stereotypes.  The only thing necessary for the triumph of racism is that good Canadians do nothing.

The Indigenous population in Canada is fast growing. They are our neighbours, friends and colleagues. To ignore/deny the suffering of their ancestors as a direct result of government policy contributes to wedge politics and sends the wrong message to Indigenous young people. As allies, we must continue to challenge the misinformation put forth by Beyak and others like her, until it is so far in the margins, it disappears off the page.

I understand how the Senate works. Beyak is there until age 75 unless she resigns beforehand; it’s clear she has no intentions of leaving anytime soon. Until that day comes, it’s my hope that even more Canadians will continue to write letters to the Senator, telling her she’s wrong, referencing the testimony, findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As a senator, we must hold her to a higher standard. One double date does not an education make. The path to reconciliation comes through acknowledging the hard truths of the past, not through denial. Until those lessons are learned, Beyak’s words are as empty as her place at the caucus table.

A Brief History of Beyak: