Senator Lynn Beyak’s comments about the Indigenous people of Canada are disgraceful.
She is quoted in the media as stating that the residential school system did “some good” and that Indigenous people get things for “no effort.” She previously proposed that Indigenous people give up their status cards in exchange for a one-time cash payment and then practice their culture “on their own dime.”
Senator Beyak is playing on Indigenous stereotypes and causing potential resentment and divisiveness from the rest of the Canadian population.
Indigenous people already have suffered immensely throughout our history and continue to be the victims of such an oppressive mindset from many more Canadians like Senator Beyak. This is how ignorance, hatred, and racism take root.
Maybe if Senator Beyak’s children and grandchildren were removed from their homes; forced to learn Indigenous languages and be punished and beaten if they spoke English; forced to convert to Indigenous cultures, traditions, and spirituality instead of following the Church and Christianity; and be molested and sent to hospitals where they would be the subject of medical experiments; then perhaps Senator Beyak would not be so quick to throw her Indigenous citizens under the bus.
Senator Beyak is forgetting her duty to all the people of Ontario and Canada. How we treat the most marginalized, alienated, and vulnerable in our society is a reflection of the strength of our democracy, society, and humanity.
Who does Senator Beyak hope to represent? What was her purpose for getting involved in politics? Is she forgetting that the Senate is a chamber of sober, second, thought? The Senate can also be a forum to protect vulnerable people including minorities such as the Indigenous people of Canada.
Where else are the Indigenous people of Canada going to have their voices heard? Unlike the French Canadians or Quebecois via the Province of Quebec, the Indigenous people do not have guaranteed representation in the House of Commons, Senate, or Supreme Court, and their languages are not officially protected.
What does Senator Beyak mean when she states that Indigenous people can practice their own culture “on their own dime?” Indigenous people are the First Peoples of Canada. They were here for hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived. Many early European settlers would not have survived the harsh winters if it was not for the Indigenous peoples.
Unfortunately, our Indigenous ancestors were displaced, infected with diseases, and nearly wiped out and given trinkets in exchange for their land, resources, and property in much of Canada.
Does Senator Beyak realize that much of British Columbia is located on unceded Indigenous territory?
Is Senator Beyak prepared to return British Columbia to the Indigenous people and lease land and resources back from the various Indigenous nations of the province? How many billions, if not trillions of dollars in payments would Victoria and Ottawa have to pay the Indigenous people to settle claims at current market value?
It’s really a joke that in exchange for the wealth and resources that is British Columbia and Canada that Indigenous people get a status card and isolated reserves, and people like Senator Beyak are using their position of power to further oppress our Indigenous peoples.
Senator Beyak needs to check her “privilege” and take a Canadian history lesson. The Indigenous people of Canada are still struggling and suffering to escape centuries of social, economic, political, and cultural abuse, neglect, and indifference. Senator Beyak is adding to this discrimination and oppression and is not proposing any real solutions to empower our First Peoples.
It is easy to blame our Indigenous citizens for their situation. The fact is our European ancestors and the Canadian government and the Church are largely responsible for the historical plight of the Indigenous people. The damage is still impacting Indigenous people today.
Indigenous people have many poorer social outcomes and are even over-represented in the prison population.
So what is the solution?
Canada needs to engage in reconciliation and develop a country where Indigenous people are acknowledged and respected for their foundational role in developing Canada. Indigenous people need to be provided with real opportunities to thrive in this great country.
Indigenous people need more than just equality, they need equity. This means that if someone needs more supports and services so that they have a level playing field like most Canadians then these supports and services should be provided.
This is a duty of the Government of Canada and all Canadians.
Alex Sangha is an award-winning social worker and author based in Surrey, B.C. For more information check out http://alexsangha.com