Jesse Wente – a charismatic speaker when it comes to Indigenous history and moving forward

Jesse Wente is an Ojibwe broadcaster, curator, producer, activist and public speaker and, on Thursday, October 29th, more than 300 people in Saugeen Shores came out to hear him speak.

Held at the UNIFOR Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, the event was a fundraiser for the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre Archive expansion.

Among those in the front row were Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau (3rd from L), Chief Greg Nadjiwon, Saugeen First Nation Elder Shirley John and Bruce County Museum Exec. Dir. Kathy McGirr (2nd R)

Wente is an outspoken advocate for Indigenous and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Art.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for both the Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts and has curated a series of five short films, ‘Keep Calm and Deconolize’, for CBC Arts.  He’s also co-produced the award-winning screen adaptation of Thomas King’s best-selling book, ‘The Inconvenient Indian’.

He previously served as Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox where he oversaw theatrical, Cinematheque and Film Circuit programming.

Wente’s first book, ‘Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance’, was published in 2021 and the evening began with his reading of the last chapter.  At the end of his reading, one could literally hear a pin drop as the audience sat in silence from the power of his words.

Wente went on throughout the evening to cover many subjects including sovereignty, residential schools and the constitutional process.  He pointed out that Canada, compared to others around the world, is a young nation. “Canada needs to grow up so that we can have adult conversations.  I know that 200 years seems like a long time but there are nations that have existed for thousands of years.”

When it came to discussion of residential schools, Wente said that, “We understand there is a lot of denialism when it comes to residential schools, but you can still go to Spanish (ON) today and see those buildings, such as St. Joseph’s girls’ school still standing (where Wente’s grandmother attended).  The stories that you hear are bad but are much, much worse than what you hear.”

He explained that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was actually the result of a lawsuit and the result of that lawsuit was the formation of the TRC.  “No Canadian Government, regardless of party, wanted to do this,” said Wente, “and it is up to you the people to have this resolved.”  Wente also went on to say that the future is about building relationships.

He also expressed his support of unions. “Unions operate from strength in numbers and they are very important today.  I am in full support of them.”

Following Wente’s lecture, a question-and-answer (Q&A) was held for the audience.  Among those who took part was Chief Greg Nadjiwon of Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation at Neyaashiinigimiing (Cape Croker).

“When it comes to relationship building,”  said Chief Nadjiwon, “there are a few things I have been thinking about.  For instance, the blanket ceremony is something that everyone should go through.”

He also said that he was a proud union iron worker and, as a ‘young radical’ had occupied lands on highways. “I did what I had to do when the Crown wasn’t listening. We took the Crown to court over human rights when we had a young Council. We were young and said, ‘if you won’t listen to us’, we will occupy land, shut down highways and do whatever it takes to be heard.  Did it work?  You’re darn tootin!”

Chief Nadjiwon also pointed out that a housing project at Nawash was working in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and is an example of forming relationships.  “I challenge everyone to visit and see what is going on in Nawash and Saugeen. This isn’t just about building houses.  It’s about building relationships.”

At the end of the evening, Wente chatted and signed copies of his book, ”Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance’.

                                   Muriel Shular (R) has her book signed

The event was presented by Nuclear Promise X with supporting sponsors TD Bank Group, NWMO, and UNIFOR and funds raised from the event will be used to support the all-important BCM&CC’s Archive expansion.