Comments in support of Canada’s punitive Indian residential school system could hurt Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak in the pocketbook.
Beyak’s family owns two car dealerships in Dryden and Fort Frances, Ont., smackdab in the middle of Grand Council Treaty 3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory.
“I’m calling for a boycott,” said Tania Cameron, a First Nation’s activist in Kenora.
“I’ll be sending letters to the First Nation leadership and, of course, using social media.”
Cameron said tribal councils and First Nations use the winter road season to make major purchases.
“This is their time to buy vehicles. They’ll go to Thunder Bay, Dryden, Kenora, Winnipeg even…and I certainly don’t find it fitting that Beyak’s businesses should benefit from First Nation dollars.”
The call to boycott Beyak’s family businesses comes the same day area First Nations launched an online petition pressuring the former Conservative senator to resign.
The website www.beyakresign.ca went live Tuesday.
“Senator Beyak’s shameful defence of the Indian residential school system is unbefitting for a member of the Senate,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of NAN.
“Her lack of knowledge and empathy for the horrors of the residential school experience is offensive to survivors and all the children who were lost.”
Fiddler, Grand Chief Ogichidaa Kavanaugh, who represents 34 First Nations in the Beyak business area, and Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs Organization of Manitoba have all signed the petition.
They describe it as a nationwide campaign.
Locally, Cameron said a boycott is needed to counter Beyak’s “deplorable” stance on residential schools and letters in support of that stance posted posted on the senator’s website.
Cameron said she was further offended by comments made by Beyak’s son, Nick Beyak, a Dryden city councillor, about First Nation’s people and the residential school era in Canada.
However, Nick Beyak said the boycott is “an inappropriate response” to the controversy.
“I’m quite confident in the way my businesses treat people,” Nick Beyak said, noting he had many Indigenous and non-Indigenous customers.
“I really believe the people whom we do business with at both dealerships will continue,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lynn Beyak is under fire in Ottawa, too. She was kicked out of the Conservative Party caucus last week, and Tuesday a group of independent senators requested an investigation into whether her posts on the government website breach Senate ethics rules.
She declined to be interviewed for this story.
The controversy also hit at a meeting of Dryden city council Monday night, noted Coun. Mary Trist.
“I reiterated my comments that I disagreed with (the) Beyaks’ comments,” she told APTN News following the meeting.
“I talked about how they had no place in 21st-century Canada, that it is troubling when I hear that someone feels they don’t need further education on a topic. Because we represent everyone in our municipality. It’s not just council business, it’s our country’s business.”
Trist teaches at a hockey academy in Dryden, where she says learning about residential schools is part of the curriculum.
“If we can’t have these conversations as leaders to acknowledge the past and work together to move forward somehow, what the heck are we doing there?” she said in an interview.
Trist said she thought Nick Beyak would take the opportunity to apologize. But he didn’t.
“I can’t make sense of why he thinks what he said was OK,” she said.
Cameron said hockey is big business for Dryden and the community hosts a major First Nations tournament that fills up hotels and restaurants.
“They make like hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Cameron said, suggesting a boycott could be expanded.
“If Dryden doesn’t come out with a statement it doesn’t look good for them because they want to attract First Nations like that.”