Review By: Kayla Berthelette
This book makes me so mad at our government and the Indian Act. If you want a real eye- opener and a perspective of what it’s like to question your own identity, I suggest you run to the shelf and grab this title.
Perhaps my own identity crisis comes into play for this review, as I continuously choose titles by Indigenous authors, being that I am Metis. Not many can see my Indigenousness, because I have light skin and blue eyes – so unless I walk around with a sign on my forehead or disclose this information, my Indigeniaty remains invisible.
Jesse Wente is being unapologetically open in this, his first book. From being taunted by whooping war cries on a little league baseball tournament, to being mocked by one of the unpopular students in grade school because of the Oka crisis news coverage, we see how frustrating it can be when you just want to fit in. As a young boy, Jesse realizes just how powerful the influence of media and storytelling can be, which mirrors his career choices later in life.
Jesse finds solace when he visits his hometown in Serpent River. He also enjoys going to get his hair cut at a black barber shop, this is because he is accepted there. Jesse knows that these people will never question his identity, but that doesn’t mean that he will stop questioning his roots.
Is he worthy of applying for a scholarship, when he has had the privilege of living in a big city for all of his life? Or, should it go to an aspiring Indigenous youth who lives on Reserve? These are thoughts that weigh heavy on Jesse’s (and thousands of other Indigenous peoples) day to day lives.
Imagine feeling unworthy of what is owed to you- put yourself in the shoes of a person who holds a status card; do you use your card for a piddly discount at the grocery store, knowing that the cashier probably doesn’t know how to process the transaction and may have to call for backup? Meanwhile, the line up of angry and impatient customers behind you is growing…
These are just a few of the struggles that minoritized people face. At first I was getting a bit bored with the book and was debating putting it down, but then it started to pick up and I really enjoyed the second part of the book. Jesse touches on his infamous “Avatar” review, which may have garnered some of the many death threats he received and systemic racism within the film and radio world, stating that, “It wasn’t just time for us to have a seat at the table; it was time for us to build a table of our own.”
I don’t find this book as gritty as I usually like, but perhaps that is because Jesse has had a fairly good childhood, with two hard working parents who enrolled him in private schools. Jesse has taken his education and used it as a way to become an advocate for other Indigenous artists and students.
This is a frustrating but very educational read, and almost cathartic in the sense that it comes full circle. If you’re interested in Indigenous culture or identity and care about educating yourself about other cultures, you NEED to read “Unreconciled” today.