I’m grateful for Senator Lynn Beyak’s viewpoint

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But not for the reason you think.

Over the past little while Canadian Senator Lynn Beyak, a Tory from Dryden, Ontario and a (thankfully) former member of the Aboriginal peoples committee made the news by making downright insensitive and hurtful comments about the Indian Residential School system in Canada.

Here’s a quick recap, in case you were ignoring everything:

She said we had to focus on the good of the residential school system. (Nope, said the Anglican Church of Canada — and they should know, because they ran them right in Beyak’s backyard.)

She defended her comments when several people, including head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Senator Murray Sinclair spoke out against them and several MPs called for her resignation.

She asked residential school survivors what they thought about her ideas to audit all money flowing in and out of reserves — right after they gave emotional testimony of their experiences.

Finally, she was removed from the Aboriginal people’s committee.

She called that removal a threat to free speech and that a silent majority supports her.

 Now a whole bunch of people probably think Senator Beyak is way out in left field with her comments. They probably think that “silent majority” comment is totally off the mark.

The thing is — it’s not. And the people who think that silent majority comment is off the mark are likely non-Indigenous Canadians who have not been thinking too much about Reconciliation, and their responsibility for it.

I live in Northwestern Ontario, about an hour’s drive from Dryden. I work with First Nations organizations, I’ve implemented projects on reserves, I have Indigenous friends, colleagues and supervisors. People who have survived the Indian Residential School system are common around these parts.

And I’ve heard comments like Lynn Beyak’s before. I’ve heard non-Indigenous people around here begrudge the Common Experience Payments the locals have received (former Pelican Lake residential school is just outside of town). I have heard people say they “wish they’d get over it already”, referring to the residential schools and the Indigenous fight to be heard, acknowledged and recognized.

I also heard an elder say that sure, she remembers the good of the residential school she attended. It was sports. She loved playing sports.

She also remembers that when her team lost, they weren’t allowed to eat for two days as punishment.

And this is why I’m grateful for Senator Beyak’s comments. There is a silent majority of people who just don’t get it when it comes to the residential school system. There are people who are in denial of just how destructive the system was, and how church and state were the architects — even if both church and state have produced apologies. There are people who wish we’d all just forget about the whole thing, act like everyone involved was just doing it for the good of the children with the love of god in their hearts, and can’t we just move on already?

I’m grateful because it finally highlights just how much work we have to do, as a nation.

This is the age of Reconciliation. It’s time we got serious about it.

We have been presented with an opportunity to do better. To start the Reconciliation process in earnest. To really ask ourselves “What am I, or my organization, my club, my community, my business, really doing, for Reconciliation?”

Imagine how good it would feel to acknowledge the past, heal, and move forward — not in denial, but in hope. Imagine how relieved so many survivors would be to have their painful pasts validated, and the gift of healing they could give their children and grandchildren, and their great grandchildren.

Imagine a Canada where, like Australia, or Germany, or Rwanda, or South Africa, we genuinely acknowledge our shameful past and bring the demons to light so they can be incinerated in the glare of our refusal to let them define us. Imagine creating the kind of nation that was originally intended when the treaties were signed. A Canada where the values of freedom, tolerance, education, good health and security were available to everyone — and everyone worked as hard as they could to always make sure that these always held true.

So again I say thank you, Senator Beyak, for your refusal to acknowledge the past has reignited my refusal to let it define our future.

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