A nonfiction book by Jesse Wente.

Jesse Wente

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. (From Allen Lane)

Unreconciled won the nonfiction category for the $10,000 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, which recognizes the year's best debut books by Canadian writers.

Wente is an Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader. He's best known for the more than two decades he's spent as a columnist for CBC Radio's Metro Morning. After working at the Toronto International Film Festival, he was named the first executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office in 2018, and was appointed chair of the Canada Council for the Arts in 2020.

Interviews with Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente on reconciliation, racism and his new memoir

2 years ago
Duration 7:17
Featured VideoThe National speaks with Jesse Wente, the first Indigenous chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, about his new book Unreconciled. Part memoir, part manifesto, Wente explores the flawed concept of reconciliation, digs into his family history and shares his own struggle with identity and racism.
Featured VideoJesse Wente talks to Shelagh Rogers about his memoir, Unreconciled.

Jesse Wente on the importance of telling Aboriginal stories

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Featured VideoJesse Wente, the director of the Indigenous Screen Office, tells Duncan McCue that Canada, "has a real struggle with seeing Indigenous people as human." He adds that Indigenous people need to tell their own stories through film, because "art is one pathway to create those human connections."

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