This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

In Defence of Senator Lynn Beyak - Lorrie Goldstein

 

Toronto Sun - http://www.torontosun.com/2017/03/29/in-defence-of-senator-lynnbeyak

LORRIE GOLDSTEIN

Before condemning Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak for saying a lot of good was done in residential schools, consider two things.

 First, the views of renowned Cree novelist, playwright, classical pianist and Order of Canada recipient, Tomson Highway, when the Truth and Reconciliation Report on residential schools was released in December, 2015.

 Here’s what Highway said, quoted by Joshua Ostroff in The Huffington Post, in a column headlined: “Tomson Highway Has A Surprisingly Positive Take On Residential Schools”.

 “All we hear is the negative stuff, nobody’s interested in the positive, the joy in that school. Nine of the happiest years of my life, I spent it at that school. I learned your language, for God's sake. Have you learned my language? No, so who’s the privileged one and who is underprivileged?

 “You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative. But what you haven’t heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn’t have happened without that school. You have to remember that I came from so far north and there were no schools up there.”

When Highway said this, nobody accused him of the equivalent of excusing the Holocaust by saying Hitler was well-intentioned.

No one said he should give up his Order of Canada.

 

Nor should they have. Highway’s view of the good done by residential schools wasn’t naive or racist. It was complex.

As Ostroff noted, Highway’s novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen, tells the story of two brothers taken from their family and sent to a residential school, where they were not allowed to speak their language and were sexually abused by priests.

Such experiences prompted Highway, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario with bachelor of arts degrees in honours music and English, to become a social worker for seven years, working with indigenous families and prison inmates.

Having considered that, I’d ask you to read Beyak’s full remarks to the Senate earlier this month, in context, which led to the current controversy.

You can find them here.  It will take about 10 minutes and you can decide for yourself whether Beyak’s remarks merit her resignation.

I think that in making her underlying and legitimate argument that the traditional ways Conservative and Liberal governments have addressed indigenous issues aren’t working and we need to re-examine them, she overstated the good done by residential schools.

She also failed to adequately acknowledge that the evil done by them wasn’t, as she put it, the result of “well intentioned ... horrible mistakes”, but rather, of a racist government policy intended to “take the Indian out of the child”.

This in the misguided belief it would make their lives better by helping them assimilate into Canadian society, when we now know, with the benefit of hindsight, that all it meant for many children was physical and sexual abuse, ruined lives and death.

That said, l believe we should have open debates in Parliament, and in universities, on these issues, as opposed to demanding resignations and preventing people from speaking if we don’t agree with them.

Why? Because it will result in better public policy. Silly me.