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Jesse Wente

Speaker Exclusive

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Broadcaster, Indigenous Advocate & Pop Culture Philosopher

A self-described ‘Ojibwe dude’ with a national and international lens, Jesse Wente encourages audiences to consider diversity and inclusion into the future view of their organization, industry and country. Jesse Wente has appeared on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning as film and pop culture critic for 20 years. He’s currently Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts.  He previously served as Director of Film Programmes, at TIFF Bell Lightbox, where he oversaw theatrical, Cinematheque and Film Circuit programming. 

Keynote Speeches

Virtual Keynotes & Webinars
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Growing the Future: Lessons in Indigenous Career Development
In this exclusive talk, best selling and award winning Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader Jesse Wente explores the pathways towards career development for Indigenous people.
Using his own experience from his expansive career, Jesse will look at some of the barriers, as well as the opportunities First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have in their careers and suggest a framework for employers to better ensure their success.
Diversity & Inclusion Is A Necessity, Not A Choice

Issues of diversity and inclusion are front and centre in today’s culture. As our population diversifies, it’s important to prepare for culture shifts and to engage empathetically with a diverse group of people.

Looking at the hurdles towards inclusion, this talk looks to break down those barriers and encourage inclusion on all levels. This presentation positions inclusion as a benchmark and pathway to success for business, institutions and the broader culture. Jesse offers up key strategies to increasing inclusion and diversity.

Unreconciled: Making Meaningful Change

In this explosive talk, Jesse Wente brings his national bestselling book Unreconciled: Family Truth and Indigenous Resistance to life.

Using stories from his life and his family’s history Jesse takes stock of the current state of truth and reconciliation in Canada, the challenges that exist to achieving both truth and reconciliation and what can be done to further the process.

Using his experience advocating for and creating space for First Nation, Inuit and Métis people in the arts sector, Jesse will explore how companies, organizations, institutions and governments can create meaningful change for Indigenous people and themselves. Jesse will touch on themes of sovereignty and self-determination, systems change, and decolonization.

This talk is appropriate for those looking to take a deep dive into truth and reconciliation, to have their ideas challenged, and those willing to face the challenges ahead.

Reconciling: A Healing Path

In this moving and personal talk, award winning Anishinaabe writer and speaker Jesse Wente explores what it is to reconcile through the lens of his own healing journey.

Using the framework of a healing process and his path of healing from several traumas, Jesse explores how he has healed, and how that might apply to the process of truth and reconciliation. Jesse touches on issues of career burnout and stress, the impact of false claims to Indigenous identity, and physical health, while relating truth and reconciliation to the healing of mind, body and spirit.

This talk is a preview of Jesse’s next book, which is a follow-up to his best-selling and award winning debut, Unreconciled: Family, Truth and Indigenous Resistance.

Pop Culture in Living Colour

Jesse synthesizes the trends he sees happening across the country and shares a vision for what is possible. 

As a self-described ‘Ojibwe dude’ with a national and international lens, he encourages audiences to consider diversity and inclusion into their future view of their organization, industry and country.  He specializes in representations in pop culture, film and education.

Reconciling Representation: Indigenous People in Popular Culture

In this presentation, Jesse offers up a look at the history of Indigenous representation in popular culture, from movies, television and video games to sports mascots. He shows how representations in popular culture have been largely skewed by political/colonial ideology and continues to harm Indigenous people.

In an age of reconciliation it’s important to understand how representation shapes our point of view and our actions so that we can avoid the problems caused by misrepresentation. Audiences leave this presentation inspired, informed and ready to make change.

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Audience reviews:

  • We appreciate your time and your words, especially during such a heavy month. I wanted to let you know that the feedback we have received regarding your presentation has been so moving and it has truly been our most engaging virtual event to date. Thank you again so much for sharing your story, it has truly been a pleasure and an honor to hear you speak. - Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • Please express our sincere thanks to Jesse; the feedback has been incredible, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of the perspective and passion that he shared with our team today. There was much to keep us thinking, and some key actions that our team members could take today. - VP, Talent Management, DHX Media (Toronto) Inc. dba WildBrain
  • Jesse’s presentation was fantastic and had a significant impact on the arts educators in attendance. He really brought home the importance of putting indigenous voices at the centre of learning through the Arts... Jesse was also a great person to work with- generous with his time on the day of the presentation and well organized. It was a pleasure having him as our keynote speaker.

    - Program Coordinator, Teaching & Learning Music, Toronto District School Board
  • Jesse was great. He spoke from his head and his heart. The historical information combined with today’s notions of indigenous people was ingenious and provided clarity and insight on how mistreated and misappropriated Canada’s First Nations have been treated. I certainly would provide any reference you would need for Jesse. His presentations were the successful underpinning for the whole conference.

    - Executive Director, Ontario Camps Association
  • Jesse’s presentation was wonderful ! We can’t wait to have him and Rueben George back together at our AEA PSA conference in October in Fort Langley. Everyone loved Jesse and can’t wait to see him again soon. - Aboriginal Education Coordinator, British Columbia Teachers' Federation
  • I am writing to express my gratitude for your outstanding presentation at our symposium. Your speech was truly inspiring and left a lasting impact on me and, based on the feedback we received, our participants as well. Your ability to weave together personal experiences with broader cultural and societal issues made for a truly engaging and powerful presentation. - BC Career Development Association
  • It was amazing – what an awesome day for all of us. I found the discussion was thought-provoking and although we just heard him in July, he brought another dimension to the discussion. I always find I am taking more away each time I listen to him. - Principal, Durham District School Board

Speaker Biography

Well known as a film critic and broadcaster in Toronto and across Canada, Jesse was the first nationally syndicated Indigenous columnist for the CBC, covering film and pop culture for 20 local CBC Radio programs. He has also been a regular guest on CBC Newsworld’s News Morning and Weekend Edition, as well as Q.

Jesse is Ojibwe, and his family comes from Chicago and the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario. Jesse is Chair of the board of directors for the Canada Council for the Arts.

His first book is published Sept 2021, titled Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance, and he’s co-produced the award-winning screen adaptation of Thomas King’s best-selling book, The Inconvenient Indian. 

His experience also includes that of being named the first Executive Director of the Indigenous Screen Office. He is an advocate for Aboriginal Arts, most notably on screen. He draws attention to the imagery used by Hollywood in portrayals of indigenous peoples and stresses the need for a culture to have influence on their own depiction. His pieces on The Revenant, Beyonce and sports mascots were among the most shared on CBC.ca. 

In his previous role as the Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Jesse oversaw New Releases, series and TIFF Cinematheque programming and scheduling. Some of his contributions to TIFF Bell Lightbox in programming included retrospectives on Roman Polanski, Paul Verhoeven, Ousmane Sembène, Oscar Micheaux, Studio Ghibli and Robert Altman. His first major curatorial project at TIFF Bell Lightbox was the landmark film programme First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition and its accompanying gallery exhibition, Home on Native Land. In the summer of 2013 he curated TOGA! The Reinvention of American Comedy, which brought cast and crew members of Animal House together for an onstage reunion.

In 2014, Jesse co-organized the Canadian premiere of the immensely popular travelling exhibition Stanley Kubrick. Prior to his appointment as Director of Film Programmes, Jesse served as one of the Canadian features programmers for the Toronto International Film Festival, and also programmed for the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Festival. Jesse has been featured in documentaries such Reel Injun, Nightmare Factory and Why Horror? Jesse served as president of Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest Indigenous Performing Arts Company for a decade.

An outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights and First Nations, Metis and Inuit art, he has spoken at the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Canadian Arts Summit, the Cultural Summit of the Americas, and numerous Universities and Colleges.

In 2017, Jesse was named the inaugural recipient of the Reelworld Film Festival’s Reel Activist Award, and in 2018 he received the Association of Ontario Health Centres’ Media Award. In 2022, Jesse was honoured as IABC/Toronto’s BMO Communicator of the Year (COTY), an award that recognizes excellence in strategic communication to deepen understanding, inspire action, and transform their community. 

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