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network 28/11/2016 - 03:00PM

Jesse Wente Comments on Canadian Discomforts - Nations & Migrations

The following is an excerpt from comments made on a panel by Jesse Wente at the Canadian Arts Summit in Banff Alberta in 2016, used with permission of the author. Here, Wente challenges the comfortable truth that diversity does not necessarily have to extend to leadership in Canada, and that Indigenous folks should endure the "discomforts" of colonization.

"Several of you have asked me since yesterday, if I was satisfied with the ministers answer to my questions about the government’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

I’d ask another question – because the likelihood I’ll be satisfied by the government and its approach to Indigenous people before I die is extremely slim – I think the question to ask is whether or not YOU were satisfied with her response?

The reality is government as a body, doesn’t care – and a colonial government like ours was never meant or built to care about Indigenous people – quite the opposite in fact. But people can care.

I’m asked to speak about diversity and Indigenous issues very often – so much so that I’ve started to turn down opportunities like this. But I said yes to this event, not because of these remarkable vistas, and not because I see all of you as potential employers, but because you are the the gate keepers to Canadian culture, you are the people that can care and do something about it.

I’m here as a speaker – I don’t rank high enough in either of the organizations I work for to get an invitation normally, despite being one of the highest ranking Indigenous curators at a major cultural institution in this country -but there are no Indigenous CEOS, or Artistic Directors to invite to this gathering, or even – gasp – an Indigenous CEO of the Canada Council, or Telefilm or Minister of Culture.

Sue Hoyle said yesterday that discomfort can be very beneficial. I couldn’t agree more. We need more discomfort – my people live in discomfort everyday – and I think it’s time for those that have benefitted the most from that discomfort, to embrace their own. And in the context of this discussion, that discomfort should come from hiring leaders who aren’t like you. It should come from embracing work and artistic practice that sits outside your expertise or experience. It should come by building organizations that aren’t a reflection of you, but reflect this land we all now share, and the human beings that now occupy it.

You are powerful people, who can shift our culture in ways the government can’t. If diversity and inclusion is important to you and your organizations, than I’ll repeat what Sue Hoyle said yesterday – Let’s just do it. It is as easy as that – just as it was that easy to exclude diverse voices for so long.

So I challenge you to do it – I challenge you to embrace the discomfort and I challenge you to change the face of this meeting and the faces eligible to attend. I challenge you, because I know you are up to the challenge.


Jesse Wente is a programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, a popular culture critic for CBC Radio and journalist for CBC's Unreserved.

* #ComfortableTruths are mainstream attitudes and ideas about nationhood, belonging and identity that, despite not being true (such as "immigrants have it easy in Canada"), have become so engrained in the Canadian imaginary and mainstream culture that they become orthodoxy. As part of Cinema Politica's Nations & Migrations project we reached out to activists and artists across the country and asked them to share their thoughts and reactions to these so-called truths.