CANADIAN SENATOR SAYS THE “GOOD INTENTIONS” OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL INSTRUCTORS OVERSHADOWED BY “FOCUS ON THE NEGATIVE”
Conservative Senator wants to focus on "good things that also happened at those schools"
By: Joseph Fitkowski
The Hon. Lynn Beyak, a Conservative senator for Ontario, has caused debate in the Senate over her statements in defence of the residential school system, when she stated that those working at the schools were "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."
Beyak, while discussing the incarceration of indigenous women, said that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was negative towards the residential schools. Although Beyak did recognize that horrific events had occurred at the schools, she also stated that the focus on negative events "overshadowed some good things that also happened at those schools."
Senator Beyak stated that the religious aspect of the schools were well-intentioned, and that the Christian organizations that ran the residential schools were well-meaning and helping Christian Indigenous communities.
The residential school system, operated by religious groups under the approval of the Canadian government, separated indigenous children from their communities and families to be educated in parochial schools run by Anglican and Catholic organizations. The residential schools, which in some cases operated as late as 1996, existed as a way to assimilate indigenous children into European norms and values, while also separating them from their own culture and communities.
Approximately 150,000 First Nations children were forced into residential schools. The system has been defined by the rampant abuse, mistreatment, and exploitation, that took place, which far too often resulted in death.
Although some former students state that the residential schools helped them gain an education and learn valuable skills, the general consensus is that the schools not only failed to provide an education, but also caused significant longstanding harm to the indigenous population of Canada, and is considered to be one of, if not the, most shameful aspects of Canadian history.
The Canadian government under then-Prime Minister Stephan Harper officially apologized for the abuses and damages done by residential schools in 2008.
Beyak also defended the legacy of Hector-Louis Langevin, a Father of Confederation who was closely associated with the residential school system, and recently has caused controversy over the debate over renaming of the Langevin Block, named in his honour, to something deemed more appropriate. She stated that Langevin's racism was "of [his] time", and that he should not be judged by today's standards. Senator Beyak also stated that then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's white paper proposal of 1969 was "ground-breaking".
After her speech, Beyak was debated by Senator Murry Sinclair, who claimed that "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 accused Beyak of not actually discussing the topic of the committee, and stated that the issues facing indigenous groups today stemmed from the violence and abuse seen at residential schools. Beyak was unable to continue the discussion, as the Senate began to move forward discussion towards another issue outside of aboriginal concerns.
The full transcript of the debate can be viewed here: