It was just a bit more than a week ago that I had the sad duty to report here on the sad inaction taken by the council of the City of Dryden. They had a motion of censure before them regarding disgraceful Senator Lynn Beyak, who is from Dryden and has invoked the name of her community in defense of her words and actions. That had some worried in Dryden that people from elsewhere might think less of their community because of the connection to Beyak, a legitimate concern.
That lead to Councilor Shayne MacKinnon to table a resolution, calling for the formal censure of Beyak by their council and making it clear that she does not speak for them, nor does she represent what their city is all about. It was a very matter of fact motion, one that should have been a no-brainer to pass, especially given that Beyak had already been suspended for the second time by the time the motion came up for a vote. But in the end, the motion lost by a vote of 5-2, with numerous councilors deciding to abstain saying that this had nothing to do with them, which was a weak excuse if you ask me.
That act by the majority of the members of that council sent a message all its own of course, despite the stated desire of some to say nothing. That silence was taken by many as a tacit approval of Beyak or a fear of facing up to what she’s said and done to date. Either way, it was far from being a profile in courage. And as with any negative action, we’re now getting the reaction, one that’s quite appropriate:
This is a good example of how Newton’s Third Law of Motion is an idea that also applies in politics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, Dryden City Council decided to thumb its collective nose at the legitimate concerns regarding the actions and words of Senator Beyak towards Indigenous peoples. In reaction, those Indigenous communities that surround Dryden, who go there for events, tournaments, and other business, from near and far, they’re making it clear that this move by the city council doesn’t make them feel welcomed there. In fact, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler went as far to say that he “would encourage event organizers ie, tournaments, to avoid Dryden as a host city in the future as it is becoming clear that it’s not a safe place for our children.”
In leveling such comments, warranted as they are, local Indigenous governments are making it clear that they won’t take this crass attempt at ducking by Dryden City Council. The fact is that many municipalities through out Northwestern Ontario survive or get by thanks to the business brought to them from local First Nations. That’s precisely the kind of economic impact that Senator Beyak herself ignored, while her family businesses made lots of money off of Indigenous customers for years. Dryden councilors also should know that impact, or if they do, they should have realized that by staying quiet as they did, they were sending a signal that not only were Indigenous people not welcomed in their community, neither was their business.
The action of that vote taken in Dryden last week could have a long-lasting reaction, as area First Nations decide to take their business to Kenora, Sioux Lookout or Fort Frances. There are many communities that would welcome the chance to host youth hockey tournaments, were hundreds of kids and parents pour into town, book hotel rooms, eat at local restaurants & shop for their trips home. And even in Northwestern Ontario, there isn’t a lack of communities to host the events that will now likely no longer be held in Dryden. When you add the impact of Covid-19 to local economies and tourism, this will be another major bite out of the local economy of this small city, and it’s totally warranted.
This is the natural reaction to this move and it’s one that those councilors should have had in mind when they took their cowardly act to duck their greater responsibilities as elected officials. They acted like they could shirk that responsibility with no consequence, but now they are finding that’s just not the case. Not only have they hurt and strained their relationships with local First Nations governments, they may also see those same communities take their business elsewhere and give Dryden an economic shunning, all because Dryden Councilors refused to give Senator Beyak the formal shunning she had earned. We’ll see if those councilors have a change of heart now that they’re faced with this growing pressure, because it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s just a sad comment on things that it would take such a natural, expected reaction to their inaction to bring it about. And if those councilors don’t change their minds, the citizens of Dryden have no one but their city council to blame for the consequences of their inactions.