Being Métis working in political Ottawa is an experience that can be trying at times. Let’s face facts, there aren’t many Indigenous peoples who work in Canadian political circles and our histories and experiences are things that are not always well known, or at least not well understood. Granted this is changing, and I can honestly say that in the decade that I’ve been here working in this environment I’ve seen some improvement.
But there are days and times when you’re given stark reminders of the past and how much further we have to go. This week, we got one of those reminders, as stark and clear as ignorance gets in this country. It’s vile and wrong on so many levels. And the person bringing it all about sits in the Senate of Canada:
I will freely admit that this is something I’ve wanted to write about, but I’ve struggled with how to go about it because honestly, this hits close to home for me in a couple ways. Firstly, Senator Beyak is from my part of the World, Northwestern Ontario, Treaty 3 territory. I take great pride in being from where I am, but we have our problems. Reading the Senator’s comments and seeing the letters that she posted on her Senate website just made my blood boil, and still do. But honestly, they also remind me of comments I’ve heard from people back home growing up. I’ve heard people say awful things about Indigenous peoples, to only then say things that Beyak said in her reply to the Senate Ethics Commissioner, things like “some of my family are Aboriginal” and “I have many friends who are Aboriginal”. And I admit, at those times growing up, I didn’t have the courage to tell them they were wrong; most times I was too afraid to say anything, and I just stayed quiet because it was easier.
The fact remains that where I’m from has a history, and some of it is not that distant. You hear the stories from places like Canadaland, who did their “Thunder Bay” podcast series last year that exposed much of what we from Northwestern Ontario have experienced and lived. The fact remains that my hometown, where I was born and raised, had multiple residential schools. One was where Chanie Wenjack escaped from; when I was in high school, my school soccer team would practice on the land where that school sat, none of us any the wiser as to what happened there because we were never taught it. At another, the students were the subject of nutritional experiments, where the kids were fed an experimental flour mixture that was illegal in the rest of Canada as a part of their diet. My hometown was also the site of the occupation of Anicinabe Park in 1974. This is all part of our combined history.
The fact remains that these are not distant events, they are not ancient history and many of the people who lived and survived them are still with us, dealing with the effects. We know how intergenerational trauma can affect the course of a person and their whole family, that’s clear today. And where I’m from, we are still dealing with it all the best that we can.
There was also a second reason why I was struggling with writing this piece; I struggled with drawing more attention to this Senator and in turn, amplifying her voice and giving it more power. I firmly believe that the views of Senator Beyak are those of the past, not of the future, and if I was going to go into this topic, I wanted something positive to come from it, something good to be highlighted that shows us that there is hope. I wanted to highlight something hopeful and today, that came across my Twitter feed from my hometown newspaper, the Kenora Daily Miner and News:
What’s the best way to work toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Kenora?https://www.kenoradailyminerandnews.com/news/local-news/reconciliation-kenora-to-hold-strategic-planning-sessions?fbclid=IwAR2VWifkmFSKfauUVOXQ9dwOQ3YvDqWWpIlFuToHe8uSjv8RuA3kgbAtMwQ
Ahze-mino- gahbewewin — Reconciliation Kenora want to know what you think — that’s why the group, partnered with Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, is holding a strategic planning workshop Friday and Saturday, meant to gather insights from residents about the best way to work together for reconciliation in the city.
The organization is seeking people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to speak to their experiences to help inform its next steps.
If you want to see hope for the future, I see it here in this kind of initiative. It’s young people like these taking the lead, showing the way forward, that give me hope for better back home. Change and better isn’t going to come from the outside and seeing an end to the racism and hate that Senator Beyak spews will not come from shaming from the big cities of Canada. That changes needs to come from the ground, come from home and come from ourselves. So, it gives me hope to see this not only happening but making progress.
So yes, Senator Beyak needs to resign and her views need to be thrown into the dustbin of history, but at the same time, it’s up to us to do better. We hold our future in our own hands, and we will get there by dialogue, listening, learning and truly caring about one another. So, while my blood boils reading her words, I’m not focusing on them; I’m looking at those who are making a positive difference and giving them my energy. In my view, that’s the best way to not just show the Senator Beyak’s of the world that they are wrong, but to ensure that we don’t repeat their ignorance going forward.