Trade Indian status for Canadian citizenship? Canada can't afford it

Sen. Lynn Beyak has told Indigenous people in Canada to "Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child." But Canada could never afford the "bizarre" proposal, says Tim Fontaine.

Sen. Lynn Beyak doubles down on assertions about residential schools, offers improbable deal to First Nations

Sen. Lynn Beyak has suggested First Nations people give up their treaty cards and instead be given a 'fair and negotiated payout' to 'settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties' — a proposal Tim Fontaine calls 'bizarre.'

Lynn Beyak is at it again.

You'll likely remember the Dryden, Ont., senator for igniting a firestorm of criticism earlier this year when she defended the residential school system as "well-intentioned" and criticized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for not doing enough to focus on the good in the schools.

Well, she's doubling down on that assertion, even though she supposedly spent the summer months meeting with First Nations to educate herself. In an open letter posted on her Senate website on Sept. 1, the senator even claims to have been inundated with letters of support since her initial comments — even some from "shamans."

"Support for my position, stories about the abundance of good in the schools, the kindly teachers and staff, the excellent sport programmes, music and language lessons and a timely education for the changing times, poured in from Indigenous and non-indigenous people alike, from every region of Canada," she writes.

The trade

Armed with this support and for no extra cost — unless you count her Senate salary and pension — she's also come up with a solution for the problem of spending on First Nations.

It's simple:

"Governments have spent billions of taxpayer dollars over decades on bureaucracies, and the dollars are obviously not getting to the people,"  Beyak wrote.

Her proposal?

"Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa."

Sen. Lynn Beyak's proposal is 'simply foolish,' says Tim Fontaine, but her words 'can't be ignored because of their source.' (CBC)

Now I must point out that "Indigenous" and "First Nations" are not interchangeable terms and that only First Nations are eligible for status cards, but surely that's an oversight on her part. She was part of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, after all (at least she was until she was removed in April).

That hairsplitting aside, her proposal is bizarre logic at best. If you can't even afford the upkeep of treaties with First Nations and paying for them is such a huge drain, how can you suddenly afford to simply buy them out?

If someone can't afford the monthly mortgage payments on a house, what makes anyone think they could suddenly come up with a lump sum of cash to pay it off?

A taxpayer-funded troll

Having spent several years as an online journalist, I've got plenty of experience with hateful online "trolls" — people who post purposefully offensive, incorrect and often off-topic drivel to get a rise out of people. While most hide behind their keyboards in the anonymity of the web, the senator use her taxpayer-funded position to spew it publicly.

Her words aren't hurtful or thought-provoking, or even ignorant — they're simply foolish. But they can't be ignored because of their source.

It says a lot about the thinking of people like Beyak, who hold power while seemingly viewing First Nations as nothing more than a financial burden, despite the fact that Canada's fortunes are built on their lands and resources.

Name the price

But hey, for argument's sake, let's get down to brass tacks: How much is this country worth to Beyak and how much is she actually willing to pay each man, woman and child for it?

Keep in mind that there are nearly 900,000 First Nations people in Canada and Beyak promised a "fair and negotiated price."

Take a good hard look around at this entire country and its resources and put a price on it. Now divide that by 900,000 or so. Chances are, the figure would be astronomical.

It doesn't matter, anyway. If the history of those very treaties is any indication, the actual payment won't equal the asking price. Not by a long shot.

Besides, for better or worse, those treaties were negotiated and signed to last "as long as the sun shines and water flows," and looking out the window anyone can see that those things are still happening.

Honour your deals

The senator and those who agree with her would be better off putting their energy toward honouring those deals, regardless of the cost, instead of trying to find an easy way out. It's really the best option for everyone in this country.

But if seeing billions of dollars being spent and not getting to "the people" is really that big a problem for Beyak, the very least she could do is take a long hard look at the Senate itself.

I'm sure she could shave a few bucks there, just in salaries alone.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Tim Fontaine is a Winnipeg-based writer who has worked for APTN National News and CBC Indigenous. You can follow him on Twitter: @anishinaboy.