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'Senate didn't go far enough:' Ontario residential school survivor responds to Beyak suspension

A residential school survivor in Sioux Lookout, Ont., said that while he’s pleased the Senate voted to temporarily suspend Lynn Beyak for refusing to remove, and apologize for, letters that have been condemned as racist, it “didn’t go far enough.”

Garnet Angeconeb says the Senate should have removed her permanently for posting 'racist' letters

Senator Lynn Beyak said Monday she doesn't "need any more education" about the Indian Residential School system. (CBC)

A residential school survivor and advocate from Sioux Lookout , Ont., said that while he's pleased the Senate voted Thursday to temporarily suspend Lynn Beyak for refusing to remove, and apologize for, letters that have been condemned as racist, it "didn't go far enough."

"I think they should have removed her permanently," said Garnet Angeconeb.

The senator  from Dryden, Ont., has been criticized for letters posted on her website which describe Indigenous people as careless and incompetent.  She said the letters were part of an effort to spark a conversation on the positive experiences in residential schools.

The Senate ethics committee recommended in April that she be suspended from the upper house for the rest of the parliamentary session after she refused to remove the letters.

Angeconeb said that Beyak has taught him that "as a survivor, we still have a lot of awareness and education" about the legacy of residential schools to impart on the public.

"It creates room for further dialogue on the path of reconciliation," he said.

'The past really matters'

In the face of blatant racism it's more important than ever for Canadians to learn about their past, said Angeconeb.

"If we don't know where we have come from as a country today, this is where the past really matters — so that we can chart a course together ...into the future and learn from our mistakes."

In a speech to the Red Chamber Thursday, Beyak argued that she was being unfairly punished by the Senate for practicing free speech.

"I'm all for freedom of expression," said Angeconeb, "but there's also freedom of speech based on fact, and this is where I differ with her."

Beyak heard survivors' stories 'from the heart'

Several years ago, Angeconeb and other community members invited Beyak to meet with them to discuss the residential school legacy.

"There were survivors in that circle that told their stories from the heart," he recalled. "She did hear our stories."

Angeconeb said that even after their meeting, Beyak "continued to talk about the good of residential schools," and began "asking First Nations to trade their status cards to become Canadians citizens."

"I had a difficult time with that because as far as I know, I'm a Canadian citizen," he said.

He added that he hopes "we can all learn learn from what's happened here the last couple years."