APTN National News
Senator Lynn Beyak says she will meet with leaders and residential school survivors this summer to discuss their “very real” concerns.
Beyak was invited to meet with a Truth and Reconciliation committee from Sioux Lookout after she made comments about residential schools in the Senate almost two weeks ago. The committee, created last year by the municipality in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, said the senator’s remarks hinders healing and relationship building.
Garnet Angeconeb, a residential school survivor who sits on the committee, said he was disappointed and surprised to hear Beyak’s comments which included stating that the remarkable works and good deeds of residential schools are often overshadowed by the negative reports and mistakes.
“We’ve been talking about the issue for so long now, over the last 20 years and there’s been some really high level processes in this country that have done good work to address this issue,” said Angeconeb last week in response to the comments. “So those kinds of views and comments coming from somebody at that level is why I was disappointed and quite frankly surprised.”
First Nations leaders and survivors have expressed similar disappointment in the senator’s comments. NDP MP Romeo Saganash called for her resignation. The Conservative senator, appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013, also sits on the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee. Harper formally apologized on behalf of the government in 2008 for its role in what has been called cultural genocide.
Beyak is from Dryden in northwestern Ontario, where she says she lives among Aboriginal people. An hour drive north from Dryden is Sioux Lookout, a town of approximately 7,000.
“The municipality is more than half Indigenous people, we sit in a service area which is 30,000 Indigenous people and we’re 100 km from Dryden,” said Mayor Doug Lawrence about the town that proclaimed 2017 the year of reconciliation.
Lawrence said their work in truth and reconciliation needs to be productive, positive and supportive of the First Nations people in the region, particularly those in remote access communities.
“They were impacted deeply by residential school, you can see it every day you see the impacts. You also see on a personal level how comments like this hurt, so we wanted to respond to that in a supportive and positive way,” said Lawrence.
Pelican Falls Indian Residential School operated a mere 15 km from town and is now a First Nations-run high school for students from the remote areas. There were eight other residential schools to operate in the region.
Chief Clifford Bull of Lac Seul First Nation said there needs to be more awareness in mainstream society and First Nations.
“We don’t know the full history of residential schools and the legacy that has occurred in our communities as a result of these institutions,” said Bull.
Bull is a survivor and member of the town’s committee.
“The legacy of residential school continues to this day,” he said.
“As a survivor I feel we needed to raise awareness for sure with mainstream society, Canadians as a whole, even my community,” he said.
A statement from Beyak on Mar. 16 said she will not be resigning from the Senate or any of her committees.
In an APTN interview, senator and chair of the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples Lillian Dyck said she is surprised Beyak hasn’t offered an apology for the hurt caused by her comments.
“Her comments were seen as being ill-informed and insensitive and what I think she should do is apologize. It wouldn’t hurt her to apologize and to say that it wasn’t meant to hurt people,” said Dyck. “Maybe she had good intentions but that’s the whole thing, often times people speak with what they think are good intentions and then they end up saying things that provoke a lot of reaction.”
In an email to Lawrence, Beyak said she has read the TRC report “cover to cover” of which she has several notes. She added that the survivors she’s talked to over the last 50 years prefer to be called “victors over adversity” or “conquerors” and that is what she wishes to discuss with Sioux Lookout’s Truth and Reconciliation committee this summer.
A date for the meeting has yet to be confirmed.