Senator Lynn Beyak – The Senate of Canada

Published: Mar 31, 2017News

March 31, 2017 

Senator Lynn Beyak
The Senate of Canada

Senator Beyak:

I am writing to express my serious and sincere concern over your recent and ongoing remarks regarding the Indian residential schools.  When your remarks were first reported, my initial reaction was that this was a learning opportunity for you and all Canadians.  Reconciliation requires truth, and truth requires education about our shared history.

Your recent comments, however, indicate you are not willing to pursue the necessary education and are standing by your entrenched views.  This is deeply disturbing coming from any Canadian but, frankly, shocking coming from a Senator who is a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

All Canadians need more education about the Indian residential schools and the impact they had on generations of First Nations children and families because we are still dealing with those impacts today.  This is why your remarks are so deeply hurtful to our people.

My generation experienced the impacts of the residential schools.  So many of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were torn from loving families and placed in institutions dedicated to teaching them that their beautiful languages and cultures were primitive and inferior, and must be eradicated.  That alone would be harm enough, but add to this the rampant physical and sexual abuse in the schools.  Add to this the pain, suffering and trauma felt by parents and families who had their young ones ripped away from them for months, years at a time.  We know now some of these little children were victims of medical experiments.  We know now thousands never came back at all and lay in unmarked graves.  I cannot do justice to the full impacts of the Indian residential schools in this letter, but I will ask:  how would you feel if your children or grandchildren were taken from you by force and treated this way?

You may have met people who speak positively of their time in the schools but I assure you, as someone who travels this country and visits with our people in hundreds of communities, they are a tiny minority in a vast sea of survivors and those who did not survive.

You lack the knowledge and sensitivities to deal with the issues or people that may come before you.  For that reason, we call on you to resign from the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and use that time away from your duties to embark on a serious and committed process of education and understanding. 

I strongly encourage you to meet directly with residential school survivors – hear their stories, ask them questions.  I would be pleased to facilitate these meetings and I know they can be conducted in a respectful manner based on the values of sharing, education and reconciliation.  Please let me know as soon as possible when we can set-up these meetings and we will work to do so.

In the interim, I am enclosing a copy of A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986 by respected researcher John S. Milloy.  It is a heavily researched book that draws on archives, official reports and other sources.  It does not rely on anecdotal experience and personal impressions.  This book will help you begin to understand the history, intent, impacts and legacy of the Indian residential schools.  I encourage you as well to read the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

I urge you to open your heart and mind to reconciliation.  I urge you to work to understand the reality of the Indian residential schools.  I urge you to talk to survivors.  I urge you to make a genuine commitment to learn the truth on behalf of your constituents and all Canadians.  And until such time as this work is underway, I urge you to step down from your position on the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.


Perry Bellegarde
National Chief

c.c.:     Senator Lillian Eva Dyck
            Chair, Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples
            Senator Larry Smith
            Leader of the Opposition and Conservative Caucus