The “flames of negativity” that were stirred up by Lynn Beyak’s racist statements as a senator are being “reignited” by a controversy at the University of Manitoba, according to a residential school survivor.
Garnet Angeconeb questions the suitability of the man tasked with overseeing Beyak’s second attempt at cultural awareness and sensitivity training after Jonathan Black-Branch quietly left his post as dean at the University of Manitoba.
The university is not saying why. In an email to CBC news, a spokesperson said Black-Branch is no longer employed by the University of Manitoba and that his leave began on June 5, but would not elaborate.
Black-Branch was also removed from his position on the governing body of the Law Society of Manitoba, a position reserved for the dean of the law school.
Both moves speak to the need for a wider probe into the handling of Beyak’s discipline and the qualifications of the man tasked with educating her, said Angeconeb who is from Lac Seul First Nation in northwestern Ontario.
“The issue with Lynn Beyak continues to throw flames on a fire that was under control,” Angeconeb said of the harm the on-going saga is causing. “It stirs up unresolved trauma for survivors.”
Beyak, who has publicly praised residential schools as “well-intentioned”, was first suspended from the Senate in 2019. The move came after she declined to remove letters from her website that described First Nations people as lazy and inept and refused to apologize for posting them.
She was ordered to complete education and training to improve her understanding and awareness of Indigenous issues before returning to her senate seat.
Beyak failed her first attempt, when the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres said Beyak created an “unsafe learning environment” with false claims to a Metis identity and other comments. Beyak denied making those claims.
In May, the Senate appointed Black-Branch as an “eminently qualified” person to design and deliver a new training program for Beyak.
After delivering a total of 24 hours of training, by video, Black-Branch concluded that “Senator Beyak is now better equipped ‘for approaching her professional work and her personal beliefs'”, according to the report of the Senate ethics committee, in June.
Senators are set to discuss the report on September 22.
‘Racism is a disease’
“There are a lot of questions about how this training was delivered, how meaningful it was,” said Danielle Morrison, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Remove Lynn Beyak from Senate, of which Angeconeb is also a member.
Residential school survivors should have the final say when it comes to determining whether Beyak’s training was a success, she said.
“Racism is a disease. It is one of the biggest pandemics affecting our world right now,” Morrison said. “This is a moment when people should ask themselves ‘am I on the right side of history?’
“How do you measure someone’s success in being an anti-racist? That assessment has already been made by survivors.”
Angeconeb said Beyak could show her training was a success through her actions. For him that means another apology, beyond the carefully scripted ones she gave in the Senate.
“It needs to come from somewhere in her home-town of Dryden, in front of Anishinaabe people,” he said. “Otherwise these are just apologies of convenience to save her Senate seat. It’s just political fluff.”
After decades of anti-racism work and advocacy on behalf of survivors, Angeconeb said he is heartened that residential schools are “at the forefront of the conversation” about reconciliation in Canada.
But he said “side-bar issues” such as Beyak’s behaviour and the on-going legal wrangling over compensation for survivors of St. Anne’s residential school are “really hurtful.”
“I continue to be upset and I continue to be angered by that,” he said.