Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Unreconciled: Family, Truth and Indigenous Resistance


For September 30th, the very first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation here in Canada, I wanted to read a book that would further my understanding of Indigenous issues here in Canada in some way.  I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for (and was open to books on everything from culture to residential schools), but while looking over books online I found Jesse Wente's Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance.  It was brand new and already well rated, so I decided that it would be the book I read this year on this day.

I wasn't familiar with Jesse Wente prior to reading this book, which is both his memoir and manifesto, but he is an Indigenous journalist and film critic who has had a very successful career in Canadian media.  In Unreconciled, he talks very frankly about how the residential school system damaged his family, making him and other members of his family feel like outsiders when they visit their family who still live on-res at Serpent River First Nations.  

He also talks at length at how there are so few people of Indigenous descent working in the media.  How Indigenous stories are so often co-opted by white people, put through a white lens and profited off of.  And how people from minorities are often made to speak for their entire group, and how there is tremendous pressure to succeed if you break through into an area because you do not want the door to close for everyone else should you fail.  Or how people of minorities, himself included, can be reduced to tokenism, standing in for their entire group, or, far uglier, being co-opted by institutions and businesses as a kind of endorsement, even if you don't actually endorse what they're selling.

While at times difficult to read, I thoroughly enjoyed Unreconciled. Wente infuses the book with humour while still showing us how Canada as a country has failed, and encouraging us all to do better.  Unreconciled is definitely a book I recommend to all Canadians, for it speaks the truth, which goes hand in hand with reconciliation.

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