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Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance

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A prominent Indigenous voice uncovers the lies and myths that affect relations between white and Indigenous peoples and the power of narrative to emphasize truth over comfort.**

Part memoir and part manifesto, Unreconciled is a stirring call to arms to put truth over the flawed concept of reconciliation, and to build a new, respectful relationship between the nation of Canada and Indigenous peoples.
Jesse Wente remembers the exact moment he realized that he was a certain kind of Indian--a stereotypical cartoon Indian. He was playing softball as a child when the opposing team began to war-whoop when he was at bat. It was just one of many incidents that formed Wente's understanding of what it means to be a modern Indigenous person in a society still overwhelmingly colonial in its attitudes and institutions.

As the child of an American father and an Anishinaabe mother, Wente grew up in Toronto with frequent visits to the reserve where his maternal relations lived. By exploring his family's history, including his grandmother's experience in residential school, and citing his own frequent incidents of racial profiling by police who'd stop him on the streets, Wente unpacks the discrepancies between his personal identity and how non-Indigenous people view him.
Wente analyzes and gives voice to the differences between Hollywood portrayals of Indigenous peoples and lived culture. Through the lens of art, pop culture, and personal stories, and with disarming humour, he links his love of baseball and movies to such issues as cultural appropriation, Indigenous representation and identity, and Indigenous narrative sovereignty. Indeed, he argues that storytelling in all its forms is one of Indigenous peoples' best weapons in the fight to reclaim their rightful place.

Wente explores and exposes the lies that Canada tells itself, unravels "the two founding nations" myth, and insists that the notion of "reconciliation" is not a realistic path forward. Peace between First Nations and the state of Canada can't be recovered through reconciliation--because no such relationship ever existed.

198 pages, Hardcover

First published September 21, 2021

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About the author

Jesse Wente

1 book58 followers
Jesse Wente is an Ojibwe broadcaster, curator, producer, activist, and public speaker.

He is Head of TIFF Cinematheque, where he oversees the historical film programme year–round at TIFF Bell Lightbox. An outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit art, he has spoken at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Canadian Arts Summit, CMPA’s Prime Time, and numerous universities and colleges.

He appears weekly on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning and recently curated a series of five short films for CBC Arts titled Keep Calm and Decolonize. Wente currently serves on the Board of Directors for both the Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 321 reviews
Profile Image for Jasmine.
232 reviews219 followers
September 29, 2021
In this part memoir and part historical commentary with contemporary calls-to-action, Jesse Wente has crafted a nonfiction account that is a welcome and necessary addition to Indigenous literature.

Jesse Wente, an Ojibwe man, arts journalist, and more recently the chairperson of the Canada Council for the Arts discusses his personal and professional experiences from an Indigenous perspective. He covers many topics, but the ones that stood out to me were his family’s experience in residential schools, working in predominantly and historically white spaces, and advocating for Indigenous content by Indigenous creators. He discusses how some of his privileges gave him the confidence and courage to ask for what he needed in his social justice work.

Growing up with the privilege of having wealthy paternal grandparents, Jesse struggled with the mental burden of feeling like he was not the “right” kind of Indigenous, of not being Indigenous “enough,” or in other cases, of feeling “too” Indigenous in certain social situations. To my mind, as someone who is Métis and First Nations, if someone identifies as indigenous, then they are indigenous. So long as it’s not a white person claiming to be a Cherokee princess or to have indigenous ancestry when they do not, not even in the slightest. There is no “right” kind of indigenous. Just because you may have more wealth and privileges doesn’t make you any less indigenous, Jesse.

Another interesting topic that came up was something called the “Appropriation Prize.” I had never heard of this before. I thought the author was calling it that sarcastically, but then I Googled it, and it turns out that that was its actual name. In 2017, it was a proposed prize for writers, namely white authors, to appropriate knowingly other people’s culture in their writing. Why anyone thought they were more capable of telling the stories of marginalized voices than said marginalized voices is beyond me. Imagine waking up one day and asking yourself: ‘whose culture can I capitalize on today to win this prize?’ The audacity.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Jesse is a great storyteller; there were several instances when I forgot I was reading nonfiction. I sometimes struggle to get through nonfiction books, but this one was so engaging that it wasn’t an issue for me this time.

I will be picking up my own copy of this ASAP.

If my review hasn’t convinced you to read this, Thomas King’s should: “Unreconciled is one hell of a good book.”

Thank you to Allen Lane/Penguin Random House Canada for the arc provided via Netgalley.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,920 reviews1,255 followers
January 14, 2022
Every so often one encounters a book that should be required reading for all Canadians. Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance is one such book. The moment I cracked open the first chapter, I knew I had to use this in my English class of adult learners (all of whom, at the moment, are Anishinaabeg from Treaty 9 nations). Jesse Wente appears in a documentary, Reel Injun, that I often use in my English course, and I’ve always seen him as a strong voice regarding the representation of Indigenous people in media. By the way, if you want to read the first chapter of Unreconciled, it’s excerpted here in The Walrus. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The subtitle explains exactly what to expect from this book. Each chapter is a self-contained essay, yet the book as a whole is a unified narrative of Wente’s childhood and professional career and his experience navigating Indigeneity in Canada. Much of what Wente discusses involves the idea of not being “Indian enough.” The concept of Indigeneity, of who is Indigenous, is incredibly complex and fraught here in Canada. I’m not going to summarize it in any way that does it justice here, but Wente does an excellent job explaining how colonialism—implemented through official government policies like the Indian Act—quite literally created official definitions of Indigenous people. And it’s fucked up that we use these colonial definitions. At the same time, movements towards self-identification as the standard have created situations where settlers can exploit opportunities created for Indigenous people, such as access to scholarships or specific academic positions.

These issues are complicated not because Indigenous people have made them so but because the federal, provincial, and territorial governments have done their best to make it difficult to be Indigenous in this country. Maybe people who wouldn’t take a free history course to learn this will listen to Wente’s stories here. His essays tackle so many interconnected ideas, from tokenism to scapegoating to representation. All of these intersect along axes of liberation and power, as he examines the points in his life where he has been free/not free to choose, points where he has had the power to determine something or when that power has been an illusion. It’s telling that Wente’s experience is not linear: one moment he’s enjoying a great deal of success and good times as a part of TIFF, and the next he’s resigning because of how the festival handled the selection of films about Indigenous people. This is an important mirror of Indigenous issues here in Canada. By one measure it’s possible to say Indigenous people have made progress wresting back rights. Yet by other measures, colonial Canada is still alive and kicking and oppressing nations left and right.

This is the thesis around which Wente constructs the aptly titled Unreconciled. But he does it from a different angle than many others might take: this is a political book that doesn’t focus overly much on politics or history (though it is there, if you look for it). Wente focuses on pop culture, on Canadian institutions like the CBC and TIFF, and on his own family history. At one point he says that the solutions to the damage of colonization are well known and documented in reports from various bodies (RCAP and the TRC being but two among many). Much like the issue of climate change, it’s not so much what should we do but when will we have the will to do it? Wente does not mince words when he says that the government refuses to undertake the work of real reconciliation, co-opting the word instead, because it refuses to acknowledge truth.

If you have been learning about and following Indigenous issues and history here in Canada at all, then very little that Wente says here will be new to you … but he says it so very well. His writing is incisive, vulnerable, powerful, to the point where I really do just want to give this book to everyone. Wente didn’t have to do this for us, didn’t have to mine his life and share these stories with everybody. The fact that he has done so is a gift, and the best way we can honour it is to do exactly what he says at the end of the first chapter: listen to him and other Indigenous people, stop centreing ourselves as settlers, and use our position as the majority population of the country to pressure our leaders into listening in turn.

Unreconciled pairs perfectly with Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground . Both are powerful and personal memoirs that enlighten and educate us about Indigenous issues in Canada. Complete the trifecta with Seven Fallen Feathers and you’ll be well on your way to a better understanding of what’s going on in this country.

Originally posted on Kara.Reviews, where you can easily browse all my reviews and subscribe to my newsletter.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Jaime M.
139 reviews14 followers
November 4, 2021
Perfect title

For how I feel about the idea of reconciliation right now. Maybe ever…

Working for a Crown Corporation as an Indigenous person & the struggles of internal and external tortures that go on with institutional Canadian oppression, can give a person real insights into the unwillingness to sit in the truth and really move towards reconciliation.

Harms are still being done within institutions that have set themselves up to be national leaders within various Canadian cultural institutions. Wente talks about the uneasy scenarios of being in the big machines with racists. Individual humans making stupid decisions that have serious affects on Indigenous peoples and Canadians.

Thank you for writing this book and for telling your story but also telling many of our stories too.

You won’t regret writing or reading this book (unless you had expectations that this book “should” be something as opposed to what it is). I suspect there will be more to come on this important and very little talked about topic.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,182 reviews76 followers
December 19, 2021
Jesse Wente is a well-known Indigenous film critic who is very active on the cultural scene and first Director of the Indigenous Screen Office. His book is part memoir, part manifesto/polemic on the position of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Manifestoes aren't my favourite form of non-fiction, they leave me wishing I were learning with more depth about the issues. And I would also have liked more depth and detail to the memoir aspects - generally his format is to take an incident or an experience he has had as a starting point for broader political and cultural points he is seeking to make (and this may be a deliberate choice as he also writes about choices he has understandably made to protect his and his family's privacy). This format may really speak to some readers, of course. I found the chapter about Wente's experience as programmer at TIFF Bell Lightbox quite interesting, and a vivid illustration of tokenism that will stay with me. And his thoughts about how he acquired and has used privilege and become able to deploy a sense of entitlement to get progressive things done were thought-provoking. 2.5.
Profile Image for Emily McG (emmysbooknook).
20 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2022
4.5. Wente’s message is clear and concise. The .5 off is only because sometimes he would start a point and would go off of it and finish it in the next chapter and it would be confusing. Regardless I think this is a book that should be taught and read in classrooms it is not only educational but would hopefully bring more focus onto the realties of what Truth and Reconciliation actually entail. His experiences especially at TIFF were powerful to read and the way it is described is heart breaking I don’t know how anyone could ever misconstrue his motives and thoughts. I encourage everyone to read this book.
Profile Image for Joseph.
99 reviews2 followers
October 1, 2021
The low rating may be partly my fault. I set my expectation too high.

I expected it would be more about film and Indigenous perspective, about urban Indian privilege and access and the community of urban Indigenous creatives in direct comparison to reserve-based lives. I expected a decades-long professional critic would have the intellectual chops and especially the burning urge to explore and articulate these things.

Profile Image for Stacey.
58 reviews
November 28, 2021
This was excellent- highly recommend for everyone, especially anyone who lives in a colonial settler state. Although this comes from a Canadian Indigenous perspective, there is a lot in here for Americans, Australians, New Zealanders etc. As the cover says, it's part memoir part manifesto, and all about truth. Read it, share it, talk about it.
Profile Image for Virginia.
948 reviews112 followers
January 22, 2023
If you think of yourself as a good person, someone who’s never done anything racist, I can see how difficult it would be to come to grips with the fact that you can allow, facilitate, and even participate in racism without ever realizing it - and that you likely have done those things.
I saw my privileged, white self in every word of this book and am determined to see all my PW friends reading it. Absolutely crucial and highly recommended reading (along with the author's review of the movie Avatar) for every human. Every single human.
…half the battle in being entitled is in its performance.
…I believe that none of us are truly entitled to anything beyond our own human dignity, and I’d like to keep in check any voice that tries to tell me different.

ETA: I'm watching "Anne with an E" at the moment and the "white saviour" element is glaringly obvious in two of the subplots. It's definitely a hate-watch for a number of reasons.
Profile Image for Rebecca Meyrink.
204 reviews8 followers
September 18, 2022
I can’t recommend this enough. This is memoir but also social and historical commentary about Canada. The writing is both engaging and accessible. Wonderful storytelling and a critical look at Canada and settler colonialism.
44 reviews1 follower
April 18, 2022
I had huge expectations for this book but was disappointed. Instead of a book to teach me more about truth and reconciliation, it came across as more of a brag about Wente’s life. Granted he has a great deal to be extremely proud of, but there is a hint of arrogance that is tiresome. I have HUGE compassion for the plight of Indigenous people and the intergenerational trauma they have experienced. This book came across as blaming and finger-wagging (and that is certainly warranted) however, Wente’s somewhat privileged background does caste him in an unique light. I’m glad I read it, but I would not recommend it to other who are trying to enhance their knowledge of Indigenous issues. There are so many other books that are more worthwhile reading.
Profile Image for Shelley Gibbs.
227 reviews8 followers
October 25, 2021
This is excellent, highly recommend. A powerful blend of memoir, cultural criticism, and call to action, from the historical to the contemporary. Wente is a consummate storyteller, an accurate and scathing critic of Canada's structural racism, and a convincing advocate for indigenous narrative sovereignty.
Profile Image for Tina.
35 reviews
January 12, 2022
Unreconciled was a very good book. As I continue my personal learning journey and try to stop saying “ I didn’t know”, I appreciate the chances I get to engage in community with Indigenous individuals and read first hand experiences. This book helps me on that journey. It dives into Wente’s personal experience as it has been effected by colonialism, residential schools, generational trauma and true Canadian history. We all have a responsibility to learn more and listen longer to the truths and to set into action steps in creating a new and different relationship between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples. I love that Wente clarifies that reconciliation would mean there was a relationship to begin with that could be reconciled. This is not the truth, so let’s face the actual ugly truths and bring about true and lasting change.
Profile Image for drew.
34 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2022
Really amazing memoir/manifesto. Weaves the personal and the political well. Engaging from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 7 books131 followers
April 23, 2022
As the jacket says, this is part memoir, part manifesto. I think it's a memoir and then an in-depth, no holds barred look at the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people. I also think this should be required reading.

(of note- Contains a large section about the Cultural Appropriation Prize)
Profile Image for Cytrina Ogle.
444 reviews2 followers
December 12, 2021
Super important book with many important messages and viewpoints. I don’t know if it was the style of writing or my headspace, but I found it really hard to engage with and follow.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
887 reviews
April 8, 2022
4.8 stars
UNRECONCILED: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance by Jesse Wente is part memoir and part manifesto. It is the first book he has written. I was quickly drawn into reading about Wente's childhood and his relationship with his grandmother and her story.
Unreconciled is an eye-opening look at the true history of Indigenous peoples. The book is in three parts: (history) The Stories I Was Told, The Story I Told Myself, and The Stories
We Tell Each Other (suggestions
for the future). I appreciated the well written and interesting short chapters.
Jesse Wente calls for a new, respectful relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. I strongly agree that communities of Indigenous peoples should not suffer from the lack of such necessities as clean water, food, shelter, education, health care, family, and culture.
Canadian culture needs to include "the stories of Indigenous peoples....
Embracing these stories, embracing the people behind them, their history, their nations, and yes, even their sovereignty, is where Canada's true identity lies. It's also where we'll find this country's true potential: in the vision our ancestors had for it, which was as a multinational place where First Nations, Inuit, Metis, and newcomers shared the land, respected each other, and were allowed to live as they wanted. In this telling, Canada would be formed not by laws passed in foreign lands but by the relationships that bound it together."

"Narrative sovereignty is the idea that people, communities, and nations should control their own stories and the tools used in that storytelling."

I feel that this is a book that should be read by all Canadians, perhaps be required reading for senior high curriculum. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a seven-year process ending with ninety-four calls to action. We need to act now!
4.8 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
Profile Image for Megan.
710 reviews
August 17, 2022
I deeply appreciated Jesse Wente’s book. I have listened to him for years on the CBC and rarely consciously recognized that he was Indigenous, something he clearly cultivated. That said, when he speaks on behalf of his community, he does so powerfully. I appreciated Wente’s honestly and his willingness to engage with a white reader. I have consistently been frustrated by a lack of Canadian books discussing Canadian racism, especially in light of the plethora of American material in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. I feel like this moves the bar forward in Canada. I deeply appreciated the discussions around policing in Canada, the concept of defunding the police, tokenism and cultural appropriation. This is a book Canadians should read and, more importantly, really digest. What I liked most was the hopeful note on which Wente leaves the book. Not only the hope for the Indigenous community but for Canada as a whole, and the call to action of all Canadians.
Profile Image for Aidan Elliot.
44 reviews
May 9, 2023
I enjoyed this book as a testament to the idea that narratives change the world.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
August 31, 2021
A truly fascinating memoir that looks at the challenges of representation as much as it reveals Jesse’s own struggles with his identity. I know some have critiqued Jesse’s writing in the past for his ego, but I found very little of that here. This is a clear-eyed look at how we got to where we as a culture got today and offers glimpses of a way forward. 4.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for Lara.
139 reviews36 followers
November 15, 2021
Listening to the audiobook was excellent because I love Wente’s voice. It was especially interesting reading this because I’m so familiar with many of the organizations he works/worked for, and because it mostly took place in Toronto. Great read and very contemporary.
4.5 but rounded up.
Profile Image for ❀ Susan G.
690 reviews52 followers
January 5, 2022
Unreconciled is the first book written by Jesse Wente. As a reformed commuter, I enjoyed listening to Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning and hearing the weekly movie reviews from Wente. At the time, I had no idea that the Toronto movie critic was Anishinaabe and a member of the Serpent River First Nation. I had no idea of his childhood experiences of racism, growing up in Toronto.

This book is well-written, thoughtful and leaves a reader reflecting on privilege, truth and way forward “to build the country that Canada has always aspired to be – the one it pretends to be – one that recognizes the inevitable failure built into colonialism, one that recognizes Indigenous sovereignty as crucial to the realization of Canadian sovereignty“. Readers can reflect on his words that “This is the Canada our ancestors envisioned when the signed pease and friendship treaties: a collective of nations, living as they want, sharing the land mutually” and consider how we can all do our part to learn and move towards this vision.

Unreconciled is a book for all Canadians to read, it is one man’s reflection of his experience and he has been careful to reinforce that his experience is not THE Indigenous experience yet it does resonate with others.

Wente says that the way forward is through truth and I am committed to learning and sharing the books that make me think, reassess, reflect.

Profile Image for Jaz.
167 reviews3 followers
October 2, 2021
As an Anishinaabe woman who, like Wente, had a grandmother attend the Spanish residential school and who grew up completely detached from her Indigenous culture, this book spoke to me in so many ways. It is both intensely personal yet profoundly universal. Wente does a fantastic job at telling his own story alongside that of Native communities across so-called Canada—and while he often says he has not felt comfortable in the past speaking on behalf of Indigenous people, I have to say: he has done an exceptional job doing just that in this book.

Wente eloquently discusses a variety of topics behind the concept of “reconciliation”: from police brutality towards BIPOC to cultural appropriation; from representation to tokenism; from the history of the Canadian residential school system to the present day struggles Indigenous people across Turtle Island face.

Wente has an accessible and straightforward way of presenting facts. While this is a memoir, it is also an incredibly informative and passionate call to action that roused me and sometimes brought me to tears.

I encourage all settler Canadians and Native people alike to read this book. It is poignant and powerful, and its words will sit with me long after I put it back on the shelf.
Profile Image for Amanda.
29 reviews
September 26, 2022
This book was beautifully written and I finished it in 3 sittings. I couldn’t stop once I started. I laughed. I cried and I learned. Every white person in North American should read this book. It will change you. And change NEEDS to happen. Thank you Jesse for speaking your truth.
October 29, 2022
Take a moment 👇🏻- a must read book.


“But for all of Canada’s territorial instincts and actions around the stories told here, in its denials of a proper voice for Indigenous peoples it has ruined any chance at telling its own story truthfully and completely. Indigenous communities are as crucial to the story of this place as their English and French counterparts, so in attacking the narrative sovereignty of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples Canada has torn a hole in itself. That absence is the root of this nation’s ongoing identity crisis. As it attempts to fill the void with hockey, Tim Hortons, and jean jackets, it ignores the truth that what has been and remains missing from Canadian culture are the stories of Indigenous peoples, the stories that have been told on this land for thousands of years.
Embracing these stories, embracing the people behind them, their history, their nations, and yes, even their sovereignty, is where Canada’s true identity lies. It’s also where we’ll find this country’s true potential: in the vision our ancestors had for it, which was as a multinational place where First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and newcomers shared the land, respected each other, and were allowed to live as they wanted and claimed, to be.
Cultural appropriation is an act of immaturity. Canada needs to grow out of it.”

Wowwww 👏🏻 👏🏻

Excerpt From
Jesse Wente
Profile Image for Laurie.
63 reviews11 followers
April 29, 2023
“When racism doesn't harm you personally, noticing it requires conscious effort, or at least empathy - just as acknowledging that you benefit from racism requires you to acknowledge its existence. White supremacy deters and clouds this effort in so many ways, reinforcing white people's place at the centre of things in all facets of life and discouraging any thought of those who are pushed to the margins. It is a propaganda campaign waged against all of us from pretty much the moment of our birth, and it encourages white people to look away by tangibly rewarding them for doing so - often in ways they aren't even aware of.“

“The wrench in the works of this narrative machine is the truth of Canada's relationship with Indigenous communities, its colonial past and present. We’re publicly celebrated while behind the scenes militarized police storm our sovereign territory to force through land developments and oil pipelines; while we’re again and again denied economic and educational opportunities; while our communities go without clean drinking water. As Thomas King wrote in his classic book The Inconvenient Indian, this country and its colonial powers aren't interested in actual Indians, just the idea of them they've conjured. They want our land, our culture, our hair, our skin, our sovereignty, just not us. They want us to make them look virtuous in the eyes of the world at the same time as they work to erase us.“
Profile Image for Britney Coleman.
17 reviews
January 17, 2022
An honest and highly readable reflection on life as an Indigenous man in Canada. It was fascinating to hear of his time in the independent school system, at TIFF and the CBC. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about Canada as it stands and all the growing we have to do.
Profile Image for Mimi.
28 reviews
February 28, 2023
I believe we all have a duty to our world to continue to learn about all members of our society. This is best done through the art of storytelling. About a year ago I read the book Caste and felt I had benefitted from its pages. I learned a lot. This month I listened to Jesse Wente on Audible in the telling of “Unreconciled”. In his own words Jesse urges each of us to listen, listen to the stories of the indigenous community in Canada. Jesse stimulates the conversation about how to learn more about who we can grow to be as a collective. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Indigeneity in Canada and how the media has influenced their story telling, and not necessarily for the better.
Profile Image for Shannon .
105 reviews6 followers
November 13, 2021
Full on 5 stars. Twice I thought I couldn’t do anymore, and so subtly he changed course and drew me in again, leaving me wanting more when I reached the end. I want to reread it now! But I know there’s someone waiting for this so I’ll return it. Adding to my TBOwned collection.
Profile Image for Krista.
484 reviews7 followers
November 21, 2021
A very important read on some very important issues for non-indigenous Canadians.
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