Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak’s comments defending the residential school system in the upper chamber this week have been called “unfortunate and misguided” by Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
While debating the over-representation of indigenous women in Canada’s prisons on Tuesday, Beyak said the positive aspects of residential schools have not been acknowledged, adding she wanted to “present a somewhat different side of the residential school story.”
Beyak said she was speaking for the “well-intentioned men and women and their descendants” whose “remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part and are overshadowed by negative reports.”
“Obviously, the negative issues must be addressed,” said Beyak.
“But it is unfortunate that they are sometimes magnified and considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good.”
More than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to residential schools over more than 100 years. Sexual and physical abuse were “rampant” at many of the institutions, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
LISTEN: Sen. Murray Sinclair responds to Beyak’s comments about residential schools
Beyak, who is a member of the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples Committee, said those “horrible mistakes” have “overshadowed some good things that also happened at those schools.”
Sen. Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said he was shocked by her statements.
“I am a bit shocked, senator, that you still hold some views that have been proven to be incorrect over the years, but, nonetheless, I accept that you have the right to hold them,” Sinclair said to Beyak.
On Thursday Bennett said the entire purpose of the residential schools was wrong, and Bayek’s statements show Canada still has a long way to go toward understanding the lasting impact of the schools.
WATCH: Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Conservative senator’s defence of residential school system ‘misguided’
“I think that it speaks to the kind of education that we need to do better to make sure that all Canadians understand the legacy of residential schools is still being visited upon in communities coast-to-coast-to coast in terms of inter-generational trauma,” said Bennett.
The federal government offered a full apology in 2008 for the residential school system, a “sad chapter in our history.”
In its apology, Ottawa acknowledged “the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.”
Global News has reached out to Beyak for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.