When I was a teenager, in what we assured ourselves at the time were the oh-so-progressive 1990s, there were two categories of racist jokes and comments I heard from my peers.
The first was about Asian-Canadians.
The second, and even more common, was about Indigenous Canadians.
That’s why Lynn Beyak’s apparent determination to destroy her career as a Canadian senator doesn’t seem that surprising to me.
As of this writing, the members of the Red Chamber are debating yet another suspension for Beyak.
Appointed in 2013 from Northern Ontario, she at first appeared to be a typical appointee – someone who was a longstanding supporter and former unsuccessful candidate for her party (in her case the Conservatives), a business owner with a background in local politics. A reliable party supporter who had never gained a foothold in Parliament through electoral efforts.
But in 2017, the trouble started.
Beyak had things to say about residential schools. Were they all that bad? Were people being unduly harsh about the institutions where children were forcibly separated from their families, beaten for speaking their indigenous languages, and frequently molested by predatory staff members?
(No, Ms. Beyak, people were not being unduly harsh, actually.)
When she couldn’t be talked around to an apology, the Conservatives wisely booted Beyak from her caucus. But you can’t fire someone from the Senate!
So Beyak embroiled herself in more controversy, publishing letters of support on her website that included overt racism against First Nations peoples.
Okay, said the Senate, you’re suspended. Go take sensitivity training.
This week, a report from those sensitivity trainers said that Beyak opened her first session with the bizarre claim that since her family had adopted an Indigenous child, she, Beyak, was Métis.
(Beyak has denied making this bizarre claim.)
The thing about Beyak’s behaviour, even discounting this most recent outburst, is that it isn’t that weird.
I’ve heard casual racism against Indigenous people for years, and while I’d say it’s generally worse among the older generation, there are plenty of people my age and younger who believe a lot of racist nonsense. Myths that First Nations people in Canada somehow have access to free gas and unlimited cash (while often living in some of the poorest communities in the nation, not sure how that works) are quite common. Any program or rule perceived to benefit First Nations people – real, half-real, or utterly imaginary – is fodder for bitter resentment.
Beyak may be a terrible politician, but she has a real constituency. She speaks for every racist internet commenter who turns up to rail against Indigenous people, desperately trying to prevent even a sliver of reconciliation.