An analysis of the protest song’s current relevance
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Willie Dunn’s “I Pity the Country” is a visceral protest song, meditating on his and other Indigenous peoples’ callous relation to the church and colonial government. His timbre is passive and humble as he lists the injustices which Indigenous peoples were facing in Canada in the ’70s. At first listen, without having the preface of the song’s release date, Dunn’s lyrics could very well have been written in 2021.
“Silly civil servants/They thrive off my body/Their trip is with power/Back bacon and welfare/Police, they arrest me/Materialists detest me/Pollution it chokes me/Movies they joke me/Politicians exploit me” read the first lines of the tune’s second verse. His words are sung melancholically and are similarly received with this sad emotion. He hits the nail on the head in acknowledging the social injustices which have become regular parts of modern Canadian society for Indigenous peoples. This raw prosody induces empathy and a “how did we let this happen?” pensiveness in the listener. I feel each of his lines deserve a checkmark, “I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this.”
In the ’70s, Canadian civil servants were the ones responsible for the scooping up of Indigenous children from their communities and families via a new section in the Indian Act. This new section allowed Child Welfare to scoop up Indigenous children from their families to be placed in foster homes and later be adopted by new, white, and church-going families. At the time which Dunn recorded his “I Pity the Country,” theSixties Scoop was only just tapering off. Although an earlier enforced section in this Act which conducted and funded the residential school system was in full swing. While the last of these schools closed only a painstakingly 25 years ago in 1996, some could argue that civil servants are still responsible for the present-day separation of Aboriginal families. Census 2016 found that 52.2 percent of children aged newborn to 14 in foster care are Indigenous, despite only 7.7 percent of children aged 14 and under being Indigenous.
The last few lines of Dunn’s first verse read, “The Bills of Rights throws me/In jails they all know me/Frustrated are churchmen/From saving a soul man/The tinker the tailor/The colonial governor/They pull and they paw me/They’re seeking to draw me/Away from the roundness/Of the light.” Present day, there is still an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian Criminal Justice System. Is this because this group of peoples are inherently rebellious and law-breaking? Of course not. Colonialism, socio-economic marginalization, and systemic discrimination among a cacophony of other cultural and socio-political issues have all contributed to this group’s overrepresentation in jails. This makes it not a thing of the past, but instead a relevant reality.
The song’s two verses are bookended in between the refrain “I pity the country/I pity the state/And the mind of a man/Who thrives on hate.” Canada is known as a land of kind people and social fairness, but to some people this is only partially true. Beyond our own eyes as witness, the numbers show the vast inequalities between Indigenous peoples versus the rest. While present day inequalities are no doubt a by-product of a harsher reality of the past, should we not be doing more to revive this lost culture, and make Dunn’s “I Pity the Country” truly a history no-longer relevant?