Playing the Indian Card

Friday, January 05, 2018

Beyak Ejected from Conservative Caucus

Senator Lynn Beyak, the Ontario Senator who was thrown off the Senate aboriginal affairs committee last year for saying residential schools were not all bad, has now been tossed out of the Conservative caucus. Her offense this time was posting comments in her support that were, according to CPC leader Andrew Scheer, and a lot of other people, racist.

Scheer quotes one such comment, presumably the critical one leading to his decision:

"I'm no anthropologist but it seems every opportunistic culture, subsistence hunter/gatherers seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is always a clash between industrial/organized farming culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff.”

Scheer says:

"Promoting this comment is offensive and unacceptable for a Conservative Parliamentarian. To suggest that indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians, is simply racist. I demanded Senator Beyak remove this content from her website. She refused. As a result of her actions, the Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith and I have removed Senator Lynn Beyak from the Conservative National Caucus.

Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative Caucus or Conservative Party of Canada."
I can understand why Scheer might have felt he had to remove Beyak from caucus. Indians vote, and are entirely likely to feel insulted. Not to mention the widespread popular support they command. True or not, saying this was not good politics.

Moreover, it is not true. The commentator is wrong on the facts. Obviously, sitting back and relying on government cannot be an aspect of traditional hunter-gatherer culture—there is no government, in traditional hunter-gatherer culture. It is more or less every man, or every family, for himself; the very opposite of this.

But the more troubling thing is that Scheer calls this “racist.” That is profoundly irresponsible of him. This is a dangerous mischaracterization, and it shows why we have every reason to worry about the effects of the recent M-103 and proliferating similar measures. Too many any longer seem unable to understand the difference between race and culture. The author of the comment was criticizing Indian culture, not Indians as a race or as individuals. He even makes this clearer by adding, in the same comment,

“I'm not saying all of them are like that but right now the Canadian society guilt trip route to more money and power is golden and being opportunist they're grabbing all the hotel room towels and silver ware they can.”

Not all Indians, then, and it is due to the circumstance they are in—the culture.

If we cannot criticize culture, in the end, we cannot even object to racism. Some cultures are racist. We also cannot object to female genital mutilation, slavery, the beheading of unbelievers, wife beating, the immolation of widows, child sacrifice, or genocide. All are or have been established cultural practices somewhere. Some of them, indeed, among traditional Canadian “First Nations” groups.

Even more disturbing, Global TV editorializes, in its story on the matter,

“Global News reviewed the 103 ‘letters,’ some dated as recently as Oct. 4, 2017, and found that the majority — which do not include full names of the writers— contained what could be described as racist or anti-Indigenous sentiments.”

What you see quoted by Scheer above is in fact, as you would expect, the worst of the lot. I went to Beyak’s web page and read a large chunk of them myself. You can too. Almost all are simply expressing their agreement that the residential schools, while they certainly had failings, were not all bad. That is the real gist of the majority of the letters. To say this is now apparently “racist and anti-indigenous.”

Global quotes a few of the comments. We must presume they consider these the most racist of the lot:

“Do not back down, the Indians, First Nations or whatever they want to be called have milked this issue to their decided advantage,” 
“This mood will only grow with Justin Trudeau running around doing selfies with minority groups,” 
“The handouts have taken their people nowhere, and their constant backward-looking mentality serves no useful purpose. Aboriginals seem to be well schooled in getting media pity and they have become very good at getting media coverage.” 
“To expect the Canadian government to continue to subsidize a culture which is often damaging to new generations of Indigenous youth, is just bizarre.”

These are surely simply reasonable disagreements among taxpayers regarding the disposition of public funds. In a democracy, it is necessary to be able to have such discussions. To tar any such comments as “racism” is simply a way to avoid addressing the argument. After all, the last two clearly express sympathy for aboriginals.

Charlie Angus has demanded that, for hosting such thought, Beyak should be thrown out of the Senate. “These are not letters from constituents or an open dialogue on ideas," he writes. "These letters are promoting an insidious negation of the lives, culture, rights and place of Indigenous people living in Canada."

Typically of one who is about to tell a terrible howler, he begins by denying they are what they obviously are: letters from constituents, and an open dialogue on ideas. This is insidious Orwellian newspeak: war is peace, freedom is slavery, and race hate, discrimination, and apartheid is “reconciliation.”

Saskatchewan “independent” (i.e., formerly Liberal) Senator Lillian Dyck has called for Beyak to be prosecuted for a “hate crime.” "Maybe someone should consider laying a charge of hate speech against her because she is using her public website in a way against an identifiable group that might be considered inciting hatred."

This is fantastically dangerous: this is pretty much exactly why we need laws protecting free speech. Allow censorship of views relevant to the current public debate, and democratic government is no longer possible. The public can no longer make informed decisions. Such freedom of speech is especially necessary to parliamentarians; which is why not even libel laws apply in parliament.

We are sailing close to the rocks here.

Dyck complained to The Walrus that, if the same claims were made against, for example, the Jewish community, it “wouldn’t be tolerated.”

I’m not sure that is the issue. Isn’t the problem instead that if the same claims were made against the Jewish culture, it would sound absurd?

Let’s try:

"I'm no anthropologist but it seems Jewish culture seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is always a clash between culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff.”

The thought is simply ludicrous. Jews sitting and waiting, doing nothing for themselves, expecting the government to give them things? Jews getting special favours from the government? Say it, and you do not sound racist: you sound unhinged.

I think Senator Dyck is demonstrating the opposite of what she thinks she is demonstrating.

It is hard to come up with an obvious parallel, since the original terms are so broad: industrial/settled farming culture, on the one side, and hunter-gatherer cultures, on the other. What is left outside the original parameters to compare them with?

But one rough recent parallel does occur: the crisis with the Greek economic insolvency and the Euro. Let’s try it, then:

"I'm no anthropologist but it seems Greek culture seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is a clash between German culture, which values effort, and a culture that will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff.”

Yep, that works. That was said, more or less, and there was no public uproar or charge of racism.

Similar things are said in Canada about the Maritimes. Stephen Harper once said something like this. It did not play well in the Maritimes, but nobody called him racist. And Pierre Trudeau once said it about the West, more or less: “Why should I sell your wheat?”

Sauce for the Canada goose is sauce for the Canada gander.

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