Lynn Beyak and the real danger of racist fabulism - Macleans.ca
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Lynn Beyak and the real danger of racist fabulism

Opinion: How deep-seated intolerance and bigotry are stubbornly passed from one generation to the next


 

A picture of Senator Lynn Beyak accompanies other Senators official portraits on a display outside the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A few years ago, while promoting Lee Daniels’s The Butler, Oprah Winfrey spoke on the matter of generational racism in an interview with BBC Arts. “As long as people can be judged by the colour of their skin, the problem is not solved,” said Winfrey. “There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it—in that prejudice and racism—and they just have to die.”

There are variations of Winfrey’s comment that form a strain of conventional wisdom where it comes to dyed-in-the-wool racism. It sounds something like this: when the generations of people steeped in the age of miscegenation laws and segregated lunch counters finally expire, their bigotry will disappear with them. Every so often there are shocking examples that betray the naïveté of this belief, and usually in the form of racial terror most often committed by young white men, aggrieved at a society they feel is leaving them behind. This is how racism is most often named and shamed—acts of overt bigotry and violence which would offend the sensibilities of most decent people.

This approach is useful when anti-violence is the goal. But it also leaves plenty of room for the type of white supremacist fabulism flaunted over the past year by Sen. Lynn Beyak. After Sen. Beyak spent the last year dredging up controversy with comments on residential schools and Indigenous assimilation, she was finally turfed from the Conservative caucus for refusing to take down anti-Indigenous letters from her Senate website. Enter her son, Dryden, Ont., city councillor Nick Beyak, all too eager to defend his mother’s honour and share the bright side of residential schools:

“Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the majority of Canadians agree with the comments Sen. Beyak has said…How can you say that nurses and priests were bad people and did no good at those schools? How can a logical person say that and call a person who says that a racist? The connection is impossible.”

Councillor Beyak calls his family’s views “quote-unquote politically incorrect,” which is a generous way of saying they’re publicly engaged in the busywork of white supremacy—passing distorted and racialized fictions down from generation to generation like a prized family heirloom. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports are freely available to anyone who cares enough to look, and the acts committed by residential school staff speak for themselves:

“The priest grabbed him, grabbed him by the hair, threw him down. Now, that was a cement floor where we played. And here he kicked him repeatedly. There was no stick. He had brand new boots, leather. I was sitting not too far away. I wasn’t very big. I still can’t forget to this day. It’s like I’m still watching him. It must have been ten minutes. These were brand new boots. On the thighs and the buttocks. He bounced his boots off him as he kicked him.”

Where the intent behind residential schools is concerned, one need look no farther than the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, prepared by Nicholas Davin for Sir John A. Macdonald:

“The Indian character, about which some persons fling such a mystery, is not difficult to understand. The Indian is sometimes spoken of as a child, but he is very far from being a child. The race is in its childhood. As far as the childhood analogy is applicable, what it suggests is a policy that shall look patiently for fruit, not after five or ten years, but after a generation or two…The Indian is a man with traditions of his own, which make civilization a puzzle of despair.”

As Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott put it in her brilliant essay for the Globe and Mail, “Canada has continually failed its treaty obligation to respect Indigenous nations’ right to steer our own canoes, instead choosing to high-jack them and pilot us towards destruction.” The extent of that hijacking includes every public conversation about Indigenous peoples to be had, especially where it comes to Canada’s sabotage of their communities, endangering of their health, and the ongoing effort to forcibly absorb them in to the body politic.

These matters have long since been settled in word, if not more recently affirmed by policy and the courts. The federal government settled accounts with survivors of the Sixties Scoop, for example, and has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. But here, the Beyaks show the machinery of white supremacy at work—by perpetuating its necessary delusions. By assigning virtue to the priests who physically tortured students with electric chairs, and to the nurses who prescribed ginger and bed rest to students who rapidly died of tuberculosis. By assuming residential schools were founded with the best of intentions, even when their founders wrote in the plainest of language their goal of erasing Indigenous cultures within two generations.

And by pretending their own family’s increasing volume of anti-Indigenous antagonism has nothing to do with the tragedy of the rivers, fish, and Grassy Narrows First Nations people being poisoned for decades by runoff from the Dryden Paper Mill, nothing to do with a reckoning being long overdue, and nothing to do with 2018 being an election year in Ontario.

The history of harm done to Indigenous people nearby their communities is the proper context to understand the Beyaks’ inability to move on. Nick Beyak believes that politically incorrect views being met with offence and insult is not how the country can be improved. Perhaps he’s right. Instead, views of the kind expressed by his family could be met with calls for Canada to honour its treaties, return the lands it stole, and for the province of Ontario to make amends with the people it pretended not to know were being poisoned for decades. Because there will be no death for prejudice and racism as long as its guardians have an interest in passing these delusions from one generation to another.


 

Lynn Beyak and the real danger of racist fabulism

  1. Funny thing about the Media, they lampooned Trudeau to shit when he decided to dump the Liberal senators from his caucus, i haven’t heard a peep from the independents senators since, or the Media. Seems the conservative still hang on to most of their pariahs, that’s all the Conservative senators are to Andrew Sheer and the conservative party, are fund raiser for the right wing, other than that they are irrelevant to the apparatus.

    • There was an article on a competitor’s site that said the Senate’s independent senators want
      Lynn Beyak to face an ethics probe over ‘racist’ letters and they also want an investigation into her use of parliamentary resources.

      So we have heard from them finally.

  2. It seems nowadays that questioning anything somebody of a different skin colour does is racist. Now from some of the other articles I have read, that actually show excerpts from some of these “racist” letters she published (I myself have not looked at them), they seems to be asking questions like how much longer to Canadian Tax payers have to keep propping up the broken Indian act and reserve systems. They question stuff like this statement in the above article “and the ongoing effort to forcibly absorb them in to the body politic”. As nobody is trying to force them to do much of anything nowadays. I am fully of the belief that the corrupt and broken Indian Act should be abolished or re-written. They should be allowed to govern themselves as a municipal district (town, county, township or whatever else you want to call it) under all the same conditions covered under the provincial government acts. If the re-written choice is taken allow them the free-education and hunting, this will satisfy the cultural obligations that the government can control, and still allow them to obtain an education. This will allow them to own the land they live on as an individual and not owned by the Federal Government with the band having control. When is it time to go this is so broken that the best idea is to tear it down completely and re-build it on what will work in the current world and current landscapes.

  3. Beyakism, we might as well name the disease, she has verbalized it so well.It’s not only racism it is intertwined with money so it’s a more deadly ism.

  4. I have a simple question but the answer may be complicated to some of the people who comment on Beyak’s article.
    Assume all residents of reservations have adequate housing, clean drinking water, good health care and education. even being proficient in their own language. THEN WHAT?
    Isolated reservations will NEVER work.

  5. “How deep-seated intolerance and bigotry are stubbornly passed from one generation to the next” Yeah by many Aboriginals who never gave Caucasians/Whites a chance and still don’t! They are taught from the cradle that the Caucasian/ White race is evil!! They have not tolerated or accepted same but certainly are racist, hateful and bigots while making out that they (many Aboriginals) are the ones who were not tolerated and face racism. They blame all Whites for what the government and many of their own people have done in the past!! Beyak did nothing wrong — she just exposed the truth!!! Rise up Whites, we have had enough of the bashing even from racist , hateful hypocrite Oprah Winfrey and many Aboriginals!! Whites Silent No More!!!

    • Lol, “Rise up”? “Oprah Winfrey”? Hahaha. Wow, you sure are mad at the injustices you face, it must be horrible.

      I guess that is the reason behind your theory of a marginalized people with next to no institutional power in the country, a people that face distrust and suspicion regularly, conspiring to teach their children hate.

      You want to know what I was taught to fight when I was a child? Ignorance and Racial Intolerance. And Ms Beyak seems to display those two traits in abundance in her public statements. I don’t think she is a twerp because she is white, or a woman, or she grew up in Northern Ontario. I think she is a twerp because she is trying to hijack a national conversation on reconciliation by deflecting attention away from the pain First Nations people experienced to focus instead on the claims of good that came of the Schools.

      In my opinion, knowing how to read, write and speak English (and how to mop, dig trenches, starch laundry, and shine shoes) doesn’t make up for the broken people that survived the “education” and returned to their homes unable to raise their children in a healthy way, or maintain a healthy relationship with their spouse, or understand and address their dysfunctional addictions.

  6. Like the article, many of the comments here are hopelessly one-sided. We have totally lost sight of what the residential schools were attempting to do. Many (reflecting the times) were abusive, doing more damage than good. But others were supportive and well-intentioned. This was Bayek’s point. It is not racism, but an attempt to bring balance to the discussion. Finding balance on political hot-button issues seems nearly impossible in this country. We swing wildly from one extreme to its opposite. That is no way to solve problems, and since we have not yet figured out how best to share this land and our collective wealth between colonizers (who are not leaving) and those colonized, it would be best not to condemn what earlier generations attempted to do. The language in the Devin report is offensive to us today, but the intention behind it was to find a way to make sure Native children had access to education. It would have been wrong to leave them behind. Today we are simply letting many native children languish on dysfunctional reserves, and our efforts to improve things are tokenism. Since we do not yet have any good solutions, we should be paying attention to all points of view.

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