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Frustration with Reporting On Sen. Beyak


Dear Ms. Trynacity,

I am a Canadian citizen who cares about this country and about the plight of indigenous Canadians.

I don’t often send feedback, but on this issue I am making an exception. Why? Because this is an issue that makes me feel like Canada is hopelessly broken. I have personally seen poverty on Canada’s reserves. I have heard from indigenous Canadians who decry the corruption and brokenness of their own band leaders. It is impossible to miss the symptoms of despair in indigenous communities: suicide, abuse, substance abuse, etc. I also see the symptoms of a broken society in Canada at large between Native and non-native Canadians: resentment, prejudice, and mutual opposition over land, development, resources, industry etc.

This is an issue I had all but given up hope that Canada could ever meaningfully solve, and then I learned of Senator Beyak’s open letter. Am I also “repugnant” because, hoping for a solution, I wonder if abolishing the Indian Act, reserve system, and special status all together might be the solution? What is so wrong with paying and empowering First Nations individuals and families, who can then decide if they want to voluntarily create or continue to participate in communities that exist specifically to preserve some measure of traditional native culture? I have visited Hutterite Colonies. They are able to maintain very strong communities with a very distinctive way of life without federal bureaucracy, without treaties and without special status (though with some reasonable accommodations from the state). Why couldn’t First Nations function the same way? The only people who would stand to lose a great deal in such an arrangement would be corrupt leaders who have been profiting from the status quo.

Perhaps I am over-estimating the corruption on reserves, but have any journalistic entity bothered to do some in-depth digging? The Liberals undid a reasonable transparency law so I suppose it is now up to journalists to dig for the truth.

Back to my point about possible solutions, isn’t it just possible that reserves are an unreasonable attempt to preserve a way of life that is incompatible with modern expectations? For example, one can live a hunting, fishing lifestyle way up north in the wilderness; but can one have such a life and also except advanced hospitals, education, access to inexpensive food, etc? Apparently clean water is even a challenge! Isn’t it reasonable to ask whether Canadians should subsidize such a lifestyle? Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Senator Beyak’s suggestions are not the best solutions. But why is it wrong to brainstorm solutions? Why is it wrong to ask hard questions?

Doesn’t it seem odd that all these politicians, and perhaps journalists are not innocent, are effectively “bullying” Senator Beyak? Do they interact with her arguments? Do they acknowledge that she was appealing to a document endorsed by no less than 2 Liberal prime ministers? Even those quotes that seem to be in every article are actually her summary of that white paper. These were not just the senator’s ideas.

My point is this, how are we supposed to make any meaningful progress if the politicians, along with a seemingly complicit press, bully, name-call, and shout down any suggestions that don’t fit with the “status quo.” Can’t we at least concede that Senator Beyak is correct that the status quo is not working?

However, the coverage is entirely one-sided. I suspect many people who agree with her suggestions are afraid to go on record supporting Senator Beyak (and for that culture of fear the media must take some responsibility). However, journalists do have a responsibility to critically evaluate views, don’t they? Why not engage with the substance of her ideas? Why not interview Former Prime Minister Chretien or others who make similar proposals? Why not research whether any states or jurisdictions have similarly handled indigenous relations with a negotiated payout of compensation and removing special status to allow for a fresh start moving forward, as Senator Beyak suggests? How did it turn out?

They seem to have an agenda to promote/support/affirm First Nations and their culture in Canada. I would think encouraging robust, creative and diverse discourse would be in keeping with such a goal.