A coalition of First Nations leaders, community members and residential school survivors are continuing their call for Senator Lynn Beyak to resign or be removed from the Senate.
The renewed calls come after Jonathan Black-Branch, the dean of law at the University of Manitoba, submitted an assessment report to the Senate Ethics Committee saying that the senator has “learned and was willing to learn” about anti-Indigenous racism and the responsibilities of senators in relation to racism in Canada.
But these efforts come too late for the coalition, which includes Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh of Grand Council Treaty #3 and Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).
In a letter signed by several grand chiefs and regional chiefs, and sent to Black-Branch on June 30, the coalition requested he “withdraw [his] report’s findings and support [their] efforts to hold Senator Beyak accountable for the harm she has caused.”
Black-Branch was asked by Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault to develop and deliver an educational program designed specifically for the senator, as part of a report adopted by the Senate on February 27.
That educational program took place from May 19 to 22, and was delivered virtually by a team of seven from the University of Manitoba, some of which are Indigenous. It included topics like Indigenous race relations, duty of government toward Indigenous peoples, personal experiences of an elder, as well as the hurt and harm caused by Senator Beyak’s personal conduct.
According to the coalition’s letter to Black-Branch, his “team inappropriately agreed to and carried out a process that undermines and blatantly disregards the calls from Indigenous leaders, Indian Residential School survivors, and community members to have Beyak removed from the Senate.”
It adds, “when an out-of-province, Western-led process is chosen over our own legal systems and traditions, knowledge keepers and educational institutions, the very purpose of anti-racism work is defeated … an opportunity at true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples was lost here.”
The letter also noted that the senator had been invited to many Indigenous-led conversations, ceremonial meetings and training sessions, “during which she caused further offense to participants and facilitators,” including an incident that led the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres to end their efforts to provide training to Beyak.
Danielle Morrison, a spokesperson for the coalition and a lawyer from Anishinaabeg of Naongashiing, said it is time to center and heed Indigenous voices in this drawn-out conversation.
“I felt like I had no voice … that our voices from the community-level were no longer important because now the Senate Ethics Committee was seeking the input from an academic team …in effect, it’s silenced our voices.”
Morrison added, “this is a trend that has happened over the history of colonization … that you have a patriarchal system that comes in and tells [Indigenous peoples] what is good for us.”
Following Black-Branch’s assessment, a report was filed in June by the Senate’s standing committee on ethics recommending that Senator Beyak’s suspension be rescinded.
The Senate is expected to vote on the matter in the Fall.