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Indigenous caucus summons Dryden senator

Liberal Indigenous Caucus chairman and Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak has sent a meeting invitation to Senator Lynn Beyak to "see where she stands" on the legacy of residential schools.

THUNDER BAY -- The federal Liberal Indigenous Caucus is requesting a meeting with embattled Senator Lynn Beyak from Dryden to discuss comments she made on Mar. 7 that cast a positive light on the Indian residential school experience. 

The caucus publicly issued Beyak the invitation on Thursday, calling out her "inexplicable resistance to acknowledging the horrific nature of the residential school system" as it urged her to meet with Indigenous Parliamentary representatives.     

"What we want to do is have a conversation with her and see where she stands," said Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak, who is also the caucus chairman. 

"Perhaps a conversation with the Indigenous caucus will help her." 

The move follows a letter Rusnak issued on the caucus' behalf on Mar. 9, calling for Beyak to issue an apology, for her to be removed from the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and for her to resign her seat in the Senate.

It also comes a day after representatives of Treaty #3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation issued a joint statement calling for Beyak to step down.

"You cannot continue to speak on behalf of Indigenous people when you have made no effort to speak to the Indigenous members that sit in the House of Commons and are working tirelessly toward reconciliation," Rusnak's new letter reads. 

"We will not remain silent as you continue to present a very harmful perspective on the history of Indigenous people in our country." 

Speaking to the letter, Rusnak expressed empathy with some of the reactions he has heard from those who lived through residential schools and are still living in the shadow of the policy's legacy.

"I've seen some of the comments from survivors of residential schools. They're right to have the same reaction we did as a caucus: to be extremely shocked and disappointed."  


Editor's note: The following is a full transcript of Senator Lynn Beyak's comments during the Mar. 7 Senate proceedings.  

Increasing Over-representation of Indigenous Women in Canadian Prisons

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Pate, calling the attention of the Senate to the circumstances of some of the most marginalized, victimized, criminalized and institutionalized in Canada, particularly the increasing over-representation of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons.

Hon. Lynn Beyak: Honourable senators, I rise today to address Inquiry No. 19 of Senator Kim Pate, the knowledgeable and thoughtful inquiry that she issued here a few weeks ago.

I want to present a somewhat different side of the residential school story. Far too many indigenous people, especially women, are incarcerated in Canada today and, like everyone in this chamber, I seek to find solutions.

Today I will take a broad look at several timely indigenous issues that are before us. I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — 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, but it is unfortunate that they are sometimes magnified and considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good.

It is because of the less partisan nature of the Senate that we have the ability to look at issues more objectively, to take that second sober look that sometimes gets missed in the theatrics of politics.

Honourable senators, I want to first acknowledge the excellent work undertaken by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mistakes were made at residential schools — in many instances, horrible mistakes that overshadowed some good things that also happened at those schools.

Many of you may know the famous Cree storyteller Tomson Highway by his works and international media presence. You may not know that for several years he worked compassionately with indigenous inmates. He is an Order of Canada recipient and lauded by Maclean's magazine as one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history. Tomson Highway is an accomplished playwright, novelist and classical pianist. Of residential schools, Highway says this:

It's the same with the residential school issue.

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 at that school. . .

You may have heard 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.

Highway has had little negative feedback from the indigenous community, because he also takes seriously the trauma of the residential schools for others. He worked for many years after university as a social worker, with broken families and inmates, mixing the challenges they face with the humour and spirituality of Aboriginal culture.

To change the name of the Langevin Block here in Ottawa — as well as other legacy infrastructure in Calgary and across the country — is a good example of fiction getting in the way of fact. It concerns me that this call for a name change is based on factual misinformation.

It concerns me that the call for the name change is a distraction from the important matters being addressed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and will take valuable dollars away from more substantial indigenous needs, including the needs of incarcerated indigenous women.

Honourable senators, to help us appreciate the issue from a different perspective, I asked a prominent Canadian author, journalist and researcher, Robert MacBain, a long-time Liberal adviser, for his insights.

Toronto author Robert MacBain has kept watch on the Aboriginal file for more than 50 years — as a reporter for major Canadian newspapers in the 1960s; consultant to the Department of Indian Affairs in the early 1970s; and author of a recent book based on more than 100 hours of interviews with 32 Ojibways, Mohawks and Crees; and a considerable amount of research and personal experience.

I have read Mr. MacBain's book, Their Home and Native Land, and found it to be well-researched and informative. I was particularly struck by the manner in which he allowed the individual Ojibways, Mohawks and Crees to tell their story in their own words. His book is dedicated to the late Brian Tuesday, a native of Fort Frances in my northwestern Ontario area.

Early this month, I asked Mr. MacBain to comment on the push to rename the Langevin Block because of Sir Hector-Louis Langevin's involvement with the Indian residential school system and the long-lasting effects on indigenous people today.

I would now like to share some of his thoughts with my colleagues in this chamber. This is what Mr. MacBain wrote:

It has been suggested that the Langevin Block should be renamed because Sir Hector-Louis Langevin — a French nationalist who favoured uniting the British colonies rather than joining the Americans — was one of the "architects" of the Indian residential school system.

In fact, schools for Aboriginal children — day schools and residential — were in place decades before Langevin became one of Sir John A. Macdonald's senior cabinet ministers.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in America (The New England Company) established a day school on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve near Brantford, Ontario, in 1828.

Langevin was only two years old at that time.

By the time Langevin was four, the Methodists were operating eleven schools in southern Ontario attended by 400 Muncey, Ojibway and Oneida children — 150 of whom could read and write.

On July 17, 1849 — when Langevin was 23 — the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada laid the cornerstone for the Mount Elgin Indian Residential School at Muncey, Ontario.

According to a report in the Christian Guardian:

A deep interest was manifestly felt by the great body of Christianized Indians assembled for the occasion. Five or six hundred of the Red Men were assembled.


The ceremony was attended by Governor General James Bruce Elgin, after whom the school was named, and the chiefs of the Muncey, Ojibway and Oneida tribes.

During the negotiations the new Dominion of Canada entered into with the scattered bands living between Thunder Bay and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, a large number of Aboriginal people who had converted to Christianity requested schools and missionaries. Many of their children were already attending church-run residential schools.

Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris, who negotiated four of the seven treaties signed between 1871 and 1877, said:

The universal demand for teachers, and for some of the Indians for missionaries, is also very encouraging. The former, the Government can supply; for the latter they must rely on the churches, and I trust these will continue and extend their operations amongst them. The field is wide enough for all, and the cry of the Indian for help is a clamant one.

Among a list of items the chiefs presented to Lieutenant- Governor Morris was:

To supply us with a minister and school teacher of whatever denomination we belong to.

The Church Missionary Society had been operating schools for Cree children at The Pas and Cumberland House in northern Manitoba for quite some time before a treaty for that region was negotiated. A large school was nearing completion at Grand Rapids, and all the bands requested assistance for the maintenance of the church-run schools.

The Ojibways in the Manitoba Superintendency in 1877 wanted to be taught farming and building and some in the area of Fort Frances were already making progress with their farming operating. The Ojibway at Lac Seul had built two villages in order to have the benefit of schools. The Indian agent in the Lake Manitoba district said that one band had built a good school, 19 new houses and had 140 acres under cultivation.

The Cree in the Athabasca region told treaty commissioners in June 1899 that they wanted education for their children " . . . but stipulated that in the matter of schools there should be no interference with their religious beliefs." Catholic or Protestant.

The Commissioner's report said the following:

All the Indians we met were with rare exceptions professing Christians, and showed evidences of the work which missionaries have carried on among them for many years. A few of them have had their children avail themselves of the advantages afforded by boarding schools established at different missions.

A large boarding school operated at Fort Albany by the Grey Nuns from the parent house in Ottawa accommodated 20 Cree pupils. Assistance was provided for the sick in the hospital ward and a number of elderly people who are unable to hunt with their relatives were supported every winter. The celebration of mass was well attended on Sunday.

The Church of England mission at Fort Albany was said to be in a flourishing condition. The large church was filled for all Sunday services and the Cree participated in their own language.

At one gathering, the Anglican bishop at Moosonee ". . . began with a prayer in Cree, the Indians making their responses and singing their hymns in the same language."

The church at Moose Factory established by the Church Missionary Society was ". . . crowded every evening by interested Indians . . ." at the same time that the treaty was signed.

During treaty negotiations in northern Saskatchewan in August 1906:

. . . the chief of the English River band insisted that in the carrying out of the government's Indian educational policy among them there should be no interference with the system of religious schools now conducted by the mission, but that public aid should be given for improvement and extension along the lines already followed.

A mission at Ile-a-la Crosse in northern Saskatchewan that had been established around 1844, when Langevin was still in his teens, looked quite marked by age. The treaty commissioner said the school ". . . is cozy within and the children whom I had the pleasure of meeting there, evidenced the kindly care and careful training of the devoted women who have gone out from the comforts of civilization to work for the betterment of the natives of the north."

A two-storey school had been built 48 kilometres south of the mission and the children were in the process of moving in when the treaty was negotiated.

Given the significant number of Aboriginals throughout Canada who had converted to Christianity and voluntarily placed their children in church-run residential schools decades before Confederation, it cannot be said that Sir Hector-Louis Langevin was one of the architects of the Indian residential school.

Was he a racist as those urging that his name be removed from the Langevin Block claim that he was?

An 1883 statement Langevin made in the House of Commons is often cited as proof positive that he was.

Here is what he said:

The fact is, if you wish to educate these children you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being educated. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes — it is to be hoped only the good tastes — of civilized people.

That is basically the position that was taken as far back as 1847 by Egerton Ryerson, after whom Toronto's Ryerson University is named.

In a letter that he wrote when he was Upper Canada's Chief Superintendent of Education, he said:

. . . nothing can be done to improve and elevate his character and condition without the aid of religious feeling. This information must be superadded to all others to make the Indian a sober and industrious man.

Ryerson said numerous experiments had shown ". . . that the North American Indian cannot be civilized or preserved in a state of civilization (including habits of industry and sobriety) except in connection with, if not by the influence of, not only religious instruction and sentiment but of religious feelings."

As Robert MacBain goes on to say, in his insightful remarks:

Through today's eyes, both Ryerson and Langevin come across as racists. However, they were most definitely not the exceptions that proved the rule.

He goes on to say:

Those were different times and people of different times — such as Langevin — should be judged according to the values of those times.

With regard to Aboriginal children being separated from their parents while attending residential school, two things should be borne in mind.

First, less than one in three school-aged Aborginal children ever stepped foot inside a residential school.

According to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there were 28,429 school-age Aboriginal children in the 1944-45 school year. Only 16,438, or 57 per cent, went to school. Of those, 8,865, or 53.9 per cent, attended a residential school, and 7,573, 46 per cent, attended day school.

The report says:

This meant that 31.1% of the school-aged Aboriginal children were in residential schools.

That also means that 68.9 per cent were not.

Most children were in day schools or boarding schools, located on their home reserve. The nomadic, tent-dwelling parents of many of those in the boarding schools on the reserves were most likely away hunting for months at time, just as so many had been at the time that the numbered treaties of 1871 to 1921 were negotiated.

Second, the National Indian Brotherhood, forerunner to the Assembly of First Nations, proposed in 1971 that ". . . residence services [would] be contracted to Indian groups having the approval of the bands served by the respective residences."

In other words, the children from the isolated communities would continue to live hundreds of kilometres away from their parents but the schools would be administered by Aboriginal people.

One final word.

The Hon. the Speaker: I am sorry to interrupt, but I must advise that the honourable senator's time has expired. Are you asking for five more minutes?

Senator Beyak: If I may.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Beyak: Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant — after whom the city of Brantford, Ontario is named — often wore nicely tailored English apparel. On top of that, he was a Mason and King George III himself gave him his ritual apron.

Brant had a good-sized farm with mixed crops, cattle, sheep and hogs. He built a fancy two-storey house and staffed it with 22 servants and slaves.

One of his slaves, by the name of Sophia Burthen Pooley, was purchased when she was seven and travelled with Brant and his family for many years until he sold her to an Englishman for $100.

No one is suggesting that Chief Brant's name be removed from the city of Brantford, Brant County or the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington.

Nor is it being suggested that the Americans rename their capital city of Washington because first President George Washington owned 319 slaves at the time of his death on December 14, 1799.

Once again, honourable senators, it was different times and people of different times, and they should be judged according to the values of those times.


I would urge each of you to read Robert MacBain's excellent book. He speaks directly to people, and it's very enlightening. To read their own thoughts in their own words is very refreshing.

For my part, I've lived in Dryden, Fort Francis and Rainy River, and I travel through Thunder Bay or Winnipeg when I come to Ottawa as a senator. I live among Aboriginal people. They are my friends and advisers. Their concerns are our concerns, and their wisdom and spirituality is vast.

Every Sunday morning, I watch "Tribal Trails," a ministry of the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission and Spirit Alive Ministries from Thunder Bay, Christian Aboriginals filled with the same spirit of God and the love of Jesus that I and many others share. Whether we believe that Jesus was the son of God or a great preacher or have no religious belief at all, the stories of these Aboriginal Christians are inspiring and uplifting, and their lives are filled with joy, love and the peace that passes all understanding. They speak of forgiveness. Our forefathers who were involved with residential schools — some may even be related to you — were well-intentioned for the most part, and those who were not should be forgiven. As with everything in life, forgiveness will go a long way in the process of reconciliation.

Every government blames the previous government for the many problems we are talking about today, but in the case of indigenous people, both parties, Conservative and Liberal, are the past governments. What we have been doing for decades is not working. It is patently unacceptable that a teenager on a reserve in Canada has never tasted fresh, clear drinking water from his own kitchen tap and that our jails are filled with Aboriginal women or that they are missing or murdered.

After spending billions of taxpayer dollars over many decades, we must find something new. There are excellent calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, but, frankly, I did not see any new light shed on these issues.

I, too, have followed this file for 50 years. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Indian Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien's white paper of 1969 was groundbreaking at the time. We cannot go back to it, and I am not suggesting we should. But most of the grassroots Natives were not aware of it, and many people I speak with would support something similar today.

The well-intentioned indigenous leaders of the day rejected the white paper at that time with a red paper of their own, but without much consultation with their ordinary folks. They claimed to have consulted widely, but if that were the case, why have so few Aboriginals heard of it? The status quo worked for the leaders, and they were reluctant to try something as unique as Trudeau's white paper.

The leaders of the day called it "forced assimilation," but I don't believe that was Trudeau's intent. I think he just wanted us to be Canadians together. His wise words still ring in my ears 48 years later, to the effect of "whose mountains, whose rivers, whose valleys?" He wanted us to enjoy them together as Canadians, with the freedom that the ability to make our own decisions and use our own money provides. Private property, home ownership, the choice of where to live and how to practise and enjoy our unique cultures are cherished values we all share.

I am simplifying the concept here, but basically the white paper was a one-time financial compensation of the treaties and land claims to be paid to every indigenous man, woman and child in Canada in an equal amount to each that would reflect the fair value of the day, to be calculated in consultation with everyone affected. The concept was to trade your status card for Canadian citizenship and all move forward together, sharing the same schools, hospitals, natural resources and social services and each of us preserving our own culture, in our own time, on our own dime, all with proper input from those involved. Details are still available at the Library of Parliament and on the Internet because it was brilliant and revolutionary.

The Hon. the Speaker: I am sorry to interrupt, senator, but your time has expired again. Do you need five more minutes?

Senator Beyak: Five will finish it if you don't mind.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Beyak: We will never know if the white paper was right or wrong or if it would have worked, but, once again, it was well- intentioned.

Now, 48 years later, the challenge of a better life for indigenous people has not been met, and what governments of all stripes have done is obviously not working. In 48 years from now, I am counting on a better outcome, and I know you all are too.

For the past four years, it has been my honour and privilege to sit on the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee with distinguished colleagues and to listen to countless exceptional witnesses. The reports we have generated, as with all Senate committee reports, will become internationally renowned and quoted. Every single one of us in this chamber should feel incredibly proud of our work and our excellent intentions.

There is no monopoly on caring and compassion, and most human beings are well-intentioned. I have noted many recommendations over the four years, but two seem particularly germane to future success. We need a national audit on every single dollar coming and going out of the indigenous file. Although it is said to be a federal issue, there are agreements with provinces and municipalities, treaty language and settlement, land claims, trade and barter, business and commerce, natural resources, casino revenue, education, health and housing. The list is endless and the overlap is endless, and none of the witnesses, officials and bureaucrats we ask have been able to give us a total dollar figure. How can we know if we are funding adequately if we cannot measure it?

My second observation is the need for a national referendum of every single indigenous person over the age of 12 to ask them what they want for their future. Where do they want to live, and what do they want to do? Everyone involved is well-intentioned, as I said earlier, but we talk to each other and to the Indian industry, who also talk to one another but never to their people. Often these groups cannot come to any agreement, and the women and children suffer the most.

There are many examples to prove my point, and I urge everyone to the read The Toronto Star article for a graphic look, called, "An Indian Industry has emerged amid the wreckage of many Canadian reserves." It will make you cry and it will make you angry.

What do we have to fear by trying something new? What governments of all stripes have been doing for decades, while spending billions of taxpayer dollars, is not working. Let's calculate and account for the total dollars, and let's talk with the people whose lives are actually affected.

In closing, senators, we all want the same things in life: loving companionship, something to do, something to look forward to. What we can't do is rewrite history, but we should learn from the past so that we do not repeat the mistakes. And we should look forward to the future. The windshield is larger than the rearview mirror for a reason: A hopeful future is better than a troubled past, a bright future that has Canada's native people thriving as victors, not victims.

Hon. Murray Sinclair: Is the senator willing to take a question?

Senator Beyak: Absolutely, senator, but I can't imagine anything you could ask me that I would have the answer to.

Senator Sinclair: Thank you for the elucidation of your views with regard to the history of indigenous and non-indigenous people in this country, senator. 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.

I notice that you didn't actually speak to the issues that were raised in the inquiry by Senator Pate, and that is the issue of incarceration of indigenous women and, particularly, the presentation that Senator Pate made with regard to the connection between the over-incarceration of indigenous women in the prisons of our country; and the connection of those incarceration rates to the history of oppression and violation that has come about because of residential school experiences; and the connection to the history of abuse that has gone on in the schools; and, in particular, the sexual violations that have occurred for indigenous women in the area of 50 per cent of those who have identified having compensation claims under the independent assessment process. Do you have a view with regard to whether or not those facts that have been disclosed by both the TRC report and Senator Pate are accurate, or do you have anything you wish to say about that?

The Hon. the Speaker: Excuse me, Senator Beyak, your time has expired again. Are you asking for time to respond to the question?

Some Hon. Senators: No.

Senator Beyak: I can answer later.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is no leave granted?

Some Hon. Senators: No.

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