Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak, who faced a string of controversies in 2017 for defending residential schools, has published more than 100 “letters of support” on her individual Senate website, with dozens containing language that First Nations advocates call racist or offensive.
Beyak was removed from the Senate’s committee on aboriginal peoples last year after she said an “abundance of good” came out of Canada’s residential schools — government-funded, church-operated schools where Indigenous children endured widespread sexual and physical abuse.
The Conservative senator from Dryden, Ont., says following her Mar. 7, 2017 speech, “many people” wrote with their personal stories of “how going to a Residential School was a positive experience for them.”
“Those people feel that they acquired useful skills and benefited from recreational activities and sports,” reads her Senate website. “I’ve discovered that numerous people, who actually read my remarks, sent an avalanche of support from across our great nation.”
Senate spokesperson Alison Korn said Sen. Beyak’s website is her personal website and she is responsible for sharing content of her choosing.
“All Senators are responsible and accountable for the content that they or their staff may choose to post on their individual websites,” Korn said in a statement. “The Senate does offer limited website services such as templates and hosting to Senators for their personal and individual use.”
WATCH: NDP calls for Sen. Beyak to resign amid residential school scandal
Global News reviewed the 103 “letters,” some dated as recently as Oct. 4, 2017, and found that the majority — which do not include full names of the writers— contained what could be described as racist or anti-Indigenous sentiments, complained about political correctness or tax dollars going toward First Nations communities. The “letters of support” section of the website appears to have been created Aug. 6, 2017.
“Do not back down, the Indians, First Nations or whatever they want to be called have milked this issue to their decided advantage,” states another dated Mar. 30, 2017.
“This mood will only grow with Justin Trudeau running around doing selfies with minority groups,” states a letter dated Mar. 9, 2017.
“The handouts have taken their people nowhere, and their constant backward-looking mentality serves no useful purpose,” states a letter dated Mar. 30, 2017.
“I’m no anthropolgist but it seems every opportunistic culture, subsistance hunter/gatherers seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is always a clash between an industrial/ organized farming culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wail until the government gives them stuff,” reads a letter dated Mar. 10, 2017. “Aboriginals seem to be well schooled in getting media pity and they have become very good at getting media coverage.”
“To expect the Canadian government to continue to subsidize a culture which is often damaging to new generations of Indigenous youth, is just bizarre,” reads another letter dated Mar. 30, 2017.
Fewer than 10 letters contained any references to “personal stories” about residential schools. All of those letters described a relative or acquaintance who worked at the schools.
Global News reached out to Beyak — who is listed as a Conservative on the Senate’s website — for comment on the letters but has not received a response.
First Nations leaders and scholars called Beyak’s actions both disturbing and embarrassing to the country.
“The letters that she is getting are espousing the same racist views that she is putting out there,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, whose group represents 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario. “It’s really disturbing, especially for a senator that is from our region.
“If our goal is reconciliation in this country, then we are a long ways a way if we have a senior official of the government posting materials like this.”
Lee Maracle, an author and professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Toronto, said it’s “embarrassing” for Canada that a senator would publicize these comments.
“I’m embarrassed for whoever considers these letters of support. They are very clearly not. They are letters of condemnation of Indigenous people,” Maracle told Global News. “It’s anti-Canada, and not just anti-aboriginal people.”
Maracle, who was recently appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, said that Beyak’s actions are “sabotaging” the federal government’s efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
She said Bayak has ignored the work of Sen. Murray Sinclair, Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, the trio who lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“These three people did something extraordinary on behalf of Canada,” Maracle said. “The senator who has said all of these things has completely missed that.”
Both Fiddler and Maracle called on the Trudeau government to demand Beyak’s resignation. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, the mayors of Edmonton and Winnipeg, several other senators, and Liberal and NDP MPs have called for Beyak to resign last September.
Global News reached out to Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott for comment but did not receive a response.
Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus called some of the comments “outright racist” and said publishing the letters on her Senate website was a form of “race-baiting.”
“What is really disturbing is she would use the denial of the horrors of the residential schools and denying what happened as a way to whip up this resentment,” Angus told Global News.
Angus said the legacy of residential schools is still devastating First Nations communities in communities he represents in the Timmins-James Bay area and across Canada.
“This woman has no mandate. She wasn’t elected by the Canadian people. She can’t be fired but she is using the enormous resources of the Canadian senate to engage in good, old fashion race-baiting,” he said. “Why are the Canadian taxpayers having to pay for her to be little more than a very, very well paid protected political troll?”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s spokesperson Jake Enwright said that Beyak’s views do not reflect the position of the Conservative Party of Canada and that she no longer has a role in the Conservative Caucus.
“Residential Schools were a dark period in Canadian history and our Party is focused on supporting efforts to address the damage that was done to the survivors,” Enwright said in a statement.
LISTEN: Tory senator defends residential school system, says good work ‘unacknowledged.’ (March 9, 2017)
LISTEN: Sen. Murray Sinclair responds to Beyak’s comments in the Senate about residential schools. (March 2017)
Beyak faced a firestorm of criticism last September after she published an open letter on her Senate website saying she believes First Nations people should give up their Indigenous rights and become Canadian citizens.
“Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa,” she wrote in a letter that has since been removed for her website.
First Nations people born in Canada are already citizens of this country.
“All Canadians are then free to preserve their cultures in their own communities, on their own time, with their own dime,” she wrote.
In the letter, Beyak also revisited her support of the residential school system that saw more than 150,000 Indigenous kids taken from their homes, according to a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Thousands of students died or suffered physical and sexual abuse, while generations have suffered trauma as a result.
Beyak said in her letter that she was paraphrasing from the 1969 white paper by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and then-Indian affairs minister Jean Chrétien, which called for abolishing the Indian Act and the assimilation of Aboriginal Peoples.
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