First, the European settlers came to what is now Canada and took land from the Indigenous people. They brought with them diseases and the mindset that this land was theirs, despite the fact that other people were already living on it. Then, the Europeans continued to colonize the land, forming governments which shunned the Indigenous people. Those governments decided that the Indigenous people needed to be more like them, so they created schools for them. These were, of course, residential schools, where Indigenous people were forced to speak English, abused, and forced to do manual labour. Many did not make it out alive, and the legacy of residential schools is a haunting stain on Canada’s past.
So why did Lynn Beyak, a Canadian MP, say that “some good things” came out of residential schools? And why is she now defending that statement, adding that she has “suffered up there with them (Indigenous people)”?
Residential schools were not “good,” and if you are not Indigenous, you have not suffered in the same way Canada’s Indigenous peoples have. Full stop. End of story. Except, for Beyak, it is not the end of the story. Beyak is, unbelievably, a member of Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee. Yes, you read that right: there is really a member of the Aboriginal Peoples committee who believes that residential schools, which were “more deadly to attend than to serve for Canada during WWII,” did some good, too.
If this isn’t shocking enough, Lynn says hundreds of people have agreed with her that “the positive side of residential schools went unacknowledged,” according to the Huffington Post. I would be willing to bet that the people saying that are not Indigenous—that they did not attend a residential school or have a family member who did. I would also be willing to bet, though, that those people did not receive adequate education about Indigenous history.
Despite learning about Canada’s history in elementary school, I only learned about residential schools in grade 10, when I was fifteen. I remember being shocked that I hadn’t learned about them earlier. Looking back, I could have educated myself on the topic, but I guess I just never realized how necessary it was. Now, I make a conscious effort to do more research about Indigenous history and issues. I believe it is important for all Canadians to know about the horrors of residential schools, and the issues that continue to face Indigenous populations.
I think mandatory high school and post-secondary courses about Indigenous history are a good start, although it may be better to start even earlier and make the subject mandatory in elementary school curriculums. I also think that as Canadians, we need to dedicate ourselves to listening to Indigenous people and standing up for issues that affect them. Lynn Beyak’s remarks about residential schools demonstrate that we still have a lot of work to do in understanding the true atrocities of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.
But these are things that Beyak should know. She is, after all, a member of the Aboriginal Peoples committee. If politicians don’t even understand the past issues Indigenous people have faced, how is the government going to make impactful legislation to help Indigenous people with the issues of today?