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Protest Song of the Week: ‘I Pity the Country’ by Willie Dunn

While many Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, there are countless Native Americans who will be marking the holiday with a “National Day of Mourning” to remember the genocide of millions of Native people.

Coinciding with the holiday, America still finds itself experiencing an ignorant and grotesque form of nativism in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. It is grotesque because American Muslims and/or brown-skinned Americans face a stigmatization not witnessed in this country since the 9/11 attacks. It is ignorant because the people angry and afraid of refugees, Muslims, and brown people in general are not Native Americans but primarily white Americans, whose ancestors settled in North America.

Like John Oliver quipped on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” only one group of refugees ever came to America and tried to wipe out millions of people—and Americans are celebrating them on Thursday.

There are few Thanksgiving protest songs out there, but a good place to begin when searching for a song to feature this week seemed to be to sift through the work of Native American musicians. The song selected is, “I Pity the Country,” by Willie Dunn, and it appeared on a 2014 compilation album of Native American folk/rock music from Light in the Attic Records.

First, to be clear, Dunn, a mixed Mi’kmaq and Scottish/Irish singer, was born in Montreal. Much of his work is a reflection of his views about the colonial oppression of indigenous people in Canada. However, “I Pity the Country” is general enough to resonate with indigenous people outside of Canada and also speak to any country, which works hard to overlook its past history of hatred and genocide.

Dunn’s song is subdued. His words are rabble-rousing, but the guitar-playing is somber. And the main message is contained in the opening lines: “I pity the country/I pity the state/and the mind of the man/who thrives on hate.”

The singer-songwriter notes a litany of things that get to him about a country of cheats and liars, who perpetuate hate. He mentions the “bigoted news press,” the “fascist town criers,” the “church men,” the jails, the “colonial governor,” and how each of them tear at his soul and pull him away from the light.

Later, he sings, “The police they arrest me/Materialists detest me/Pollution it chokes me/Movies they joke me/Politicians exploit me/City life it jades me.” Nothing in this country speaks to the anguish he feels.

“Revolution is rumbling,” Dunn adds,” but he recognizes there is a tradition of indigenous people being ruled by impunity. This is what men who thrive on hate have always done, and Dunn does not have the answer to defeating or curing the hate.

Dunn’s lyrics are powerful because he chooses a more compassionate emotion to express his protest. Yet, the struggle he acknowledges is that pitying hate-filled individuals, who appear to dominate an entire country, means he absorbs all this negative and bigoted energy and that wears on him.

The politicians, the police, the church men, the bigoted news press, the fascist town criers, etc—These are the people who keep up the cycle of hatred and violence. And, as the tradition of hatred and violence all seems so vast, it is difficult to know where to start to change tradition. Choosing not to hate your oppressors but instead pity them becomes a kind of radical act toward reconciliation, even though oppressors may never reckon with what they’ve done.

Listen to “I Pity the Country,” which is Shadowproof’s “Protest Song of the Week.”

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? We have a few submissions we’ll be featuring in the coming weeks, and if you’d like to submit a song, send submissions to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."