Protest song from Willie Dunn gets a contemporary remake with archival footage in new video

Monday, October 2nd, 2023 2:17pm


Image Caption

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson adds her voice to the new video “I Pity The Country” first recorded by Willie Dunn in 1971.


“Indigenous peoples fought hard to get us to this moment, and it reminds us that we were born into a proud and joyful movement of Indigenous resistance...” — Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


A short video that mixes historic images with contemporary film and honours Indigenous sovereignty and resistance is now available on YouTube.

“I Pity The Country” was released on Sept. 29, one day before the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Willie Dunn, the late Mi’kmaq musician, film producer and politician, first recorded “I Pity The Country,” a powerful protest song, in 1971.

The song begins with the lyrics “I pity the country. I pity the state. And the mind of a man. Who thrives on hate.”

The new version of the video from filmmakers Door Number 3 Productions includes Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a musician and writer of eight books from Alderville First Nation in Ontario, singing portions of the song.

Simpson first heard Dunn’s song a few years ago.

“It resonated in my bones, even though it had been five decades since he wrote it,” she said.

The first time Simpson performed the song was in 2018, the same day that the man who killed Colten Boushie was acquitted. Boushie, who was a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was fatally shot by a farmer in 2016.

“Every single time we've played it live, the lyrics speak to whatever colonial disaster our peoples are confronting, whether that is the building of pipelines, searching landfills and schoolyards for our remains, protecting the breathing lands from mining, or coping with wildfires,” Simpson said.

“This beautiful, celebratory short reminds me that Indigenous peoples fought hard to get us to this moment, and it reminds us that we were born into a proud and joyful movement of Indigenous resistance we will pass along to the coming generations.”

Lisa Jackson, a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southwestern Ontario, is co-director and co-producer of the latest version of “I Pity The Country”.

Jackson said when she first heard Simpson sing Dunn’s iconic song “it gave me shivers,” adding Dunn created “a timeless work of searing honesty, power and dignity.”

Jackson said she is pleased to be part of the latest video and continue the work of Indigenous screen storytellers.

“Where the Canadian government worked for generations to erase Indigenous cultures and lives, our films are now embraced in Canada and around the world and supported through systemic changes that are recognizing Indigenous stories as a core part of this country’s identity,” Jackson said.

Besides scenes shot by several Indigenous filmmakers, the newest version of “I Pity The Country” includes archival footage from the National Film Board of Canada and the CBC.

Conor McNally, who is Métis and co-directed the film, said there was some original hesitation whether mixing film formats, including modern digital video, would clash in the over-all appearance.

“Surprisingly, these formats came together rather organically,” said McNally, who lives in Edmonton.

“Maybe this is a result of the power of the song carrying us through the shifts in screen textures. While archival film call back to films by Willie Dunn and the Indian Film Crew, working them alongside footage from contemporary Indigenous filmmakers feels as though this film has become a cover song in and of itself.”

McNally said he was pleased to be involved with the project.

“Being able to rework existing films into something new brought with it a fun challenge, as well as an exciting artistic endeavor,” he said.

The six-minute video can be viewed here

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.