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Good Riddance Beyak
Linda Cauchy
Métis Women's Circle
May 1, 2021


Described as someone whose name we would not normally know or who should have remained a totally unremarkable Senator, the controversial and scandalous Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak resigned from the Senate late January 2021. Many would say none too soon. Others remark the timing of her immediate resignation, one week prior to a debate on a motion to permanently expel her from the Senate, as a desperate move to avoid the dubious recognition of becoming the first Senator to be permanently expelled.

In 2017, after Beyak's shocking speech responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report where she made an appeal for balance to the TRC's report by highlighting the good people and good deeds done in Indian residential schools, many denounced her as a racist, a troll (Charlie Angus, NDP MP from Timmins, James Bay), woefully ignorant, unworthy to be a Senator, and unrepresentative of the Canadian Senate. Beyak, unapologetic, who at the time was a member of the Senate's Aboriginal Peoples Committee, received thousands of letters both angry and supportive of her statements. She personally selected, to post on her government funded official website, a number of offensive and racist letters whose content suggested that Indigenous people are chronic whiners, lazy, inept, milking the residential school issue, ought to be assimilated....The Senate ethics committee found that Beyak had breached the Senate code of ethics and in March 2019 demanded that she remove the offensive letters. A self-righteous Beyak refused. She called the letters edgy and opinionated. Consequently, Beyak was suspended from the Senate without pay in May 2019. She was ordered to complete training in an attempt to improve her understanding of Indigenous issues. This, for a Senator representing Dryden Ontario, where nine residential schools once existed in her region. Crown Indigenous Relations minister, Carolyn Bennett, said that the "denial, misinformation and prejudice propagated by Beyak's website have no place in Parliament" (Jorge Barrera CBC, November 29, 2019). Senator Peter Harder expressed that, "...Canadian lawmakers should not provide a forum for these racial stereotypes" (Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, September 24, 2019). Strong statements accompanied by delayed reactions showing a regrettably high tolerance for racist opinions in Canada's highest institution.

It was during her first (but failed) attempt at training that Beyak falsely declared herself Metis, as her parents had adopted an Indigenous child. The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) found her statement of Metis ancestry offensive. David Chartrand, MMF president announced, "We deplore the way Senator Beyak has tried to say that it is okay for her to publish racist comments because she claims to be Metis" (John Paul Tasker, CBC February 3, 2020). Beyak subsequently denied having ever made this claim. During this training she also declared there to be no racism in Northwestern Ontario. While under investigation by Senate ethics officer Pierre Legault, Beyak outlined her understanding of racism in Canada:
"In my view, there is no racism in Canada. Right now there are groups putting people into silos, trying to divide us, by saying that we have racism against violence, we have racism against Indigenous people, Ukrainian, white privilege - I find those people racist. Those who seek to divide us are the racists. The rest of us are Canadians. We all bleed the same colour, we all live together in peace and harmony. That's the way Canada is supposed to be,"(John Paul Tasker - CBC News - Posted: Mar 29, 2019).
With such a distorted view of racism it is almost possible to conceive of how Beyak, through posting the offensive letters, claimed she was telling the truth and reflecting the voice of Canadians. It begs the question; whose truth, which Canadians? How does one respond to the bigotry and hatred that Beyak promoted on her government website on more than one occasion? It is a big task to dispel myths and mistruths, and to challenge ignorance propagated by people like former Senator Beyak. It is a challenge to institutional and cultural inertia.

Institutional and cultural inertia present a resistance to change in order to maintain the system of beliefs and the social narrative which help the dominant culture and attitudes prevail. The idea of cultural inertia has been compared to Newton's well known laws of motion where, for example, according to the first law, simply put, objects at rest will stay at rest. "We can think of culture as an object ...cultures that are not used to change and don't welcome change, those are static cultures." (https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2019/11/05/graduate-student-deciphers-cultural-inertia-through-newtons-laws-of-motion/). Continuing along this line of thought, Newton's third law claims that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction... it can be applied to the outward reaction that some groups have in response to cultural change" (Ibid.). The more Indigenous peoples recover their voice, make demands, and assert cultural identity and authority, the greater this type reaction can be heard through the persistent and pathetic cries for an "end to government handouts" or through efforts of assimilation. Insert the term "institutional" for cultural and the enormity of challenges is clear.

We can't rely on top down institutional change to eradicate racism and bigotry; grass roots movements begin the dialogue and move it along. But to be successful, grassroots movements need more than a common goal and good will, they need organization. "They need a plan with structure and strong leadership to back it up, as well as a system of accountability for that leadership. And, of course, a grassroots organization needs to be a voice of the people, not of the few" ( target="_blank">https://news.stlpublicradio.org/show/st-louis-on-the-air/2013-10-14/what-does-a-grassroots-organization-need-to-affect-change). Small disjointed voices carry less weight; one can develop a sense of agency by belonging and promoting a coherent voice. So, suss out your grassroots organization. Ask, is it aligned with community values? Is there structure to the activism? Be ready to volunteer and be active. Be ready to wait for change, as incremental as it may be.

There are many ways to challenge the inertia. Influence power structures by electing the right people and creating institutional inroads. Wab Kinew, the NDP Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition in Manitoba is an obvious example. Offer support for Indigenous political hopefuls by working campaigns. Ask the tough questions of political candidates to find out if they are worthy of your vote. Consider running for Office. Contact your elected officials and make demands; Indigenous issues are their issues! Read and stay informed on the issues that matter to you most so that you can engage in informed conversation. Challenge educational curricula which perpetuate myths and cultural biases. Celebrate and support the greatness of Indigenous creativity in the arts, music, and literature.

Returning to the laws of motion, we now encounter Newton's second law which states, "when a force acts on an object, it will cause the object to accelerate. The larger the mass of the object, the greater the force will need to be to cause it to accelerate"(https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-newtons-laws-of-motion-608324). Through this analogy, we see that our collective voices, organizations, demands, and political or social actions are the sustained force needed to break the cultural inertia so that future Indigenous generations will not have to suffer the ignorance and indecency of another Beyak.
Meegwetch.

Posted



ARCHIVE

May 12, 2021 The Flower Beadwork People
May 1, 2021 Good Riddance Beyak
April 1, 2021 Another Day in Paradise
March 1, 2021 All My Relations Matter More Now Than Ever
January 21, 2021 "Look Out The Window, Quick"





SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

The purpose of Trade Beads is to inform and inspire our readers within the overall theme of Indigenous experience. Broadly, themes will follow the four seasons, but posts are not limited by these categories. We consider submissions by students, artists and community members at large. TradeBeads is supported by the Métis Women's Circle, whose mission statement is as follows;
We are a circle of Métis women who support, educate and empower our women and their families. We acknowledge the Creator and the wholistic relationship between the earth and the gifts provided to us. Through reciprocity and the healing journey we can help our people reclaim and celebrate our cultures, histories and identities.

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