A residential school survivor who has met with Sen. Lynn Beyak says the apology she delivered Tuesday is insufficient.
“I don’t think I’m ready to accept this apology,” Garnet Angeconeb told HuffPost Canada Wednesday. “I think she should sincerely submit her resignation and move on.”
Angeconeb is a member of Lac Seul First Nation in northwestern Ontario and attended the Pelican Lake Indian Residential School from 1963 to 1969.
He was present at a meeting of residential school survivors in Sioux Lookout, Ont., that Beyak was invited to in 2017.
Beyak apologized in the Senate Tuesday for posting racist letters from constituents about Indigenous people on her official website and refusing to delete them.
“After deep and careful reflection, I have come to the view that the posting of offensive and hurtful letters to a Senate public website was wrong and ill-considered,” she said.
Her apology comes as some Senators push to suspend her for a second time. Beyak’s suspension last May ended automatically when Parliament dissolved for the 2019 election.
Angeconeb said that the apology rang hollow.
“I have one question,” he said. “How sincere is that apology? Given what has happened since that infamous set of statements in 2017 … and other statements she has made since then.”
The scandal around Beyak’s views has dragged on for years.
“How sincere is that apology?”
In 2017, the senator said in a speech that Canada’s residential school system was “well-intentioned” and the “good things” that happened at the schools have been “overshadowed.”
About 6,000 children died attending Canada’s residential schools. The government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that the schools “institutionalized” child neglect and “created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers” in its final report released in 2015.
Beyak’s comments were immediately decried as ignorant and harmful.
She then doubled down, publishing an open letter on her website telling Indigenous people to “move forward,” give up official Indian status for Canadian citizenship (Indigenous people have citizenship), and preserve their culture “on their own time, with their own dime.”
She was again called “incredibly ignorant.”
To prove that other Canadians supported her views, Beyak then published a cache of letters she had received on her official Senate website. Many of the letters were outright racist, suggesting that Indigenous people are lazy and “milking” the issue of residential schools. She was kicked out of the Conservative caucus for refusing to delete one of the letters.
In 2019, the Senate suspended Beyak for refusing to delete the derogatory content and a committee recommended that she attend educational programs about the racism that Indigenous people face in Canada.
She said that she had done nothing wrong and called the penalty “totalitarian.”
Beyak did sign up for training at the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. But the federation’s training co-ordinator says that the senator was “indifferent” and “not invested” in their content. The co-ordinator also reported that Beyak claimed to be Métis herself, because her parents adopted an Indigenous child, and said that racism does not exist in her home area of Dryden, Ont. Beyak later said she is not Métis and denied ever claiming to be.
Beyak’s office did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
Angeconeb said that the senator’s statements have hurt First Nations people in his community.
“... that misinformation just fuels more anger.”
“There is racism in Canada. For someone of her stature to say there is no racism in Dryden or in northern Ontario … we must be from different planets,” he said.
“One of the things she did say was that First Nations people should trade in their status cards for Canadian citizenship. I don’t know what she was basing that on … I hold Canadian citizenship. That’s so inaccurate ...
“Whether she realizes it or not, that misinformation just fuels more anger at the community level.”
Photo remains on Beyak’s site
Angeconeb also noted that Beyak is still using a 2017 photo of the meeting with survivors in Sioux Lookout on her website. Both he and the mayor of Sioux Lookout said in 2017 that the photo inaccurately suggests that the meeting went well.
Angeconeb said Beyak should apologize personally to the survivors who were at that meeting.
“I don’t think there was ever any hope of changing her views overnight,” he said.
“In the spirit of promoting reconciliation ... we thought, you know, maybe there would be a bit more understanding, she will be more empathetic towards the experiences of survivors. And that really did not happen, which is evident by subsequent statements she made over the years, up until yesterday.”
With a file from The Canadian Press