An open letter to Senator Lynn Beyak on her recent comments about the Indian residential school system

*Caveat: I speak from the perspective of an immigrant, citizen and settler ally to Indigenous peoples. If I have been out of line anywhere, please let me know*

Dear Senator Beyak,

My name is Aadita Chaudhury. I’m an immigrant who is a Canadian citizen, who like you, is a settler in the traditional territories of First Nations people, much of which is unlawfully occupied — this is a fact that cannot be denied. I live in Toronto, the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. I wanted to write to you with regards to your comments about the residential school system, as I’m sure numerous others already have. You spoke about the “unacknowledged” “well-intentioned” “good deeds” done by the residential school system, and how recent conversations have unfairly gloss over this “different side of the residential school story”.

Senator Beyak, I’m not here to convince you of the violence of atrocities of residential schools, the rampant, physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse, the nonconsensual and grossly unethical nutritional experiments on Indigenous children, because I don’t think it is my job to convince you that residential schools have left a deep legacy of pain in Indigenous communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done an excellent job of that, and numerous Indigenous scholars, thinkers and artists continue to speak about their experiences today. Perhaps you should seek out more of these voices yourself and consider them without attending to your imperialist biases, which you seem oblivious to, since you have the nerve to attempt a revisionist history of residential schools while standing on stolen land.

I would like to talk to you about this issue as a descendant of citizens from another British colony — India, as to how your recent notions about residential schools and Trudeau’s 1969 white paper are misguided and insidiously hateful. I’m no stranger to stories of dispossession, discrimination and cultural genocide from my own country of origin. I am deeply uncomfortable at your attempt at Whig history, because if successful, it would imply the success of the original residential school strategy, which was to “kill the Indian in the child”. In fact, your example of a good deed that has been done in residential schools referring to the mass conversion of Indigenous children into Christianity to me sounds like nothing more than spiritual abuse at best, and you condoning this is furthermore disturbing. Your support for the Trudeau white papers with the hope that we could all be “Canadians together” shows your support for systemic and epistemic violence against non-British and non-French communities in Canada, by which the government would effectively incentivize the destruction of the Indigenous psyche perhaps to further legitimize it claims on Indigenous territory while creating mass amnesia about its own hypocrisy.

As a person living currently in Toronto, I often feel very disconnected, and even unwelcome in these lands. This is not because I have real fears for my safety, but somewhere deep down, I know I have not been invited here in the terms of the original custodians of the land, and I have not made a space for myself within their relations. To me, this feels like grief at the loss of possible connections I could have made, the cultural landscapes I could have been part of ethically and the knowledges and practices I could have honoured, instead of having to bow to my ancestors’ colonial masters once again. Every time I see someone like you who shuts down Indigenous claims to sovereignty, I feel revictimized by imperialism. One of the biggest regrets in my life was being welcomed into Canada without any Indigenous perspectives or presence, without living, working and going to school for years until I met an Indigenous person. It was as if the odds were already stacked against me in trying to understand its history. It’s as if, everything from my school textbooks to many public space, wanted to convince me of the timelessness of British common law across time in these lands, erasing Indigenous history. To naturalize the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in this way not only trains immigrants to believe the “official story of Canada” from which the violence of colonialism and slavery are erased, it sets them up to not believe and honour the Indigenous perspectives.

I would request you, as an immigrant and Canadian, to resign from our Senate. I think enough damage has been done to the memories, spirits, and psyches of our Indigenous communities, and in my case, it has bled into my own intergenerational trauma. I do not want to live in a Canada where people in political power continue to gaslight and manipulate the marginalized with impunity. Thus, I ask, if you have any love for this country, however shallow and problematic that may be, please step down.

Warmest regards,

Aadita Chaudhury

PhD Candidate, Department of Science and Technology Studies, York University

Toronto, Canada