Friday January 05, 2018

Residential school survivor says he told Andrew Scheer about Lynn Beyak's letters months ago

Garnet Angeconeb is a residential school survivor and long time social justice advocate who received the Order of Canada in 2012. He complained about Sen. Lynn Beyak's 'letters of support' in September.

Garnet Angeconeb is a residential school survivor and long time social justice advocate who received the Order of Canada in 2012. He complained about Sen. Lynn Beyak's 'letters of support' in September. (Provided by Garnet Angeconeb)

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A residential school survivor and Order of Canada recipient says he warned Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer months ago about the controversial letters on Sen. Lynn Beyak's Senate website.

Scheer kicked Beyak out of the Conservative Senate caucus on Thursday because she had posted "offensive and unacceptable" letters in support of her defence of residential schools — where some 6,000 Indigenous children died from malnutrition and disease.

Scheer's spokesman Jake Enwright said on Twitter that his office only became aware of the letters on Tuesday, but Garnet Angeconeb says he emailed Scheer and Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith about them on Sept. 15.

Neither Scheer, Smith nor Beyak responded to As It Happens' request for comment.

One letter says Indigenous people "should be very grateful" for residential schools. Another referred to Indigenous people as "a culture that will sit and wail until the government gives them stuff."

"I'm really disappointed, I'm discouraged and outright hurt by some of those comments," Angeconeb told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"These people who say these kind of things never lived the residential school experience and, you know, I think people should really try and understand what we actually went through before generalizing about the good that residential schools did."

letters of support

A screenshot shows Beyak's personal Senate website, where she posted more than 100 letters supporting her stance on residential schools. (lynnbeyak.sencanada.ca)

After reading the letters in September, Angeconeb immediately penned an email to Scheer and Smith, which he shared with As It Happens on Friday. Here is an excerpt:

"She continues to use her official senate website to push her self-generated propaganda. If Senator Larry Smith is truly 'distancing' the Conservative senate caucus from their colleague's rhetoric, then Senator Beyak must discontinue using her senate website to push her distorted agenda," it reads.

"To continue to use a government paid website to push personal [ideology], it only appears her caucus continues to allow her to spew out nonsensical and uninformed rhetoric."

He never received a response.

"It's really disappointing that nobody really paid attention to the issue that I raised," he said.

"It just says to me that they don't really listen to the little guy, you know, from isolated Northern Ontario."

'That really scarred my childhood'

Angeconeb is a member of the Lac Seul First Nation​. He received the Order of Canada in 2012 for his work in social justice advocacy and improving race relations.

As a boy, he attended the Pelican Indian Residential School in Sioux Lookout, Ont.

"One of the things that I continue to live with is the effects of being taken away from my family — my parents, my grandparents, my community," he said.

"Being a child and going through that, that really scarred my childhood."

Beyak

Beyak was kicked out of the Conservative Senate caucus on Thursday. (CBC News)

Like many Indigenous people, Angeconeb also suffered sexual abuse at a residential school.

His abuser, former Anglican priest Leonard Hands, was sentenced to four years in prison in 1996 after pleading guilty to 19 counts of sexual assault against young boys. 

Hands died in 2000, and Angeconeb forgave him posthumously at public gathering of residential school survivors. 

Meeting with Bayek

In July, he and the Sioux Lookout Mayor's Committee for Trut​h and Reconciliation met with Beyak — four months after her controversial statement that "good deeds" were accomplished by "well-intentioned" residential school teachers.

beyak meeting

Beyak met with the Sioux Lookout Mayor’s Committee for Truth and Reconciliation in July. Bayek is pictured in the front row, second from the right. To her left is Angeconeb. (lynnbeyak.sencanada.ca)

"We let her know first-hand the realities of residential schools and what we were talking about," he said.

"I didn't expect that she would change her views or anything like that, but I thought she would be a little more empathetic and understanding."