Seven Fallen Feathers (2017) – Tanya Talaga

Seven Fallen Feathers is a defining book. It is a haunting, distressing and angering discourse on racism and loss in Northern Ontario, and across Canada.

Talaga, a dedicated and insightful journalist turns her investigative eye, shining it like a spotlight onto a piece of Canadian life that many of us are loathe to discuss, accept, let alone acknowledge.

This is no document of ancient history, this is yesterday, today, and by extension our future.

Indigenous youth are dying in terrifying numbers in Thunder Bay, coming to the city in pursuit of their secondary education. They come in from the cold north, remote towns and villages that can only be reached by plane and winter roads. In the big city, confronted with a mass of humanity, they struggle to survive, especially when it seems that the city, as a whole, hates them, disbelieves them, and cannot be bothered to help them.

Talaga documents with a reporter’s objectivity the fate of seven youth, seven fallen feathers, who lost their youth and their lives in Thunder Bay. That city isn’t the only one that is being held accountable for the actions, or inaction of the government and law enforcement, Talaga gives the history of residency schools, the cultural genocide that occurred, as well as the physical and sexual abuse that far too many children were exposed to.

The book, with unflinching honesty, recounts terrifying experiences in residency schools, the indifference of police investigating missing youth, and the ineptitude of any number of enforcement and medical offices in their lack of contact with worried and grieving families.

There is a level of institutional racism running through the government in their dealings with First Nations. Despite Harper’s historic apology, little to nothing has been done to help improve education, to say nothing of basic amenities like heat and running water.

Since the first treaty was signed, an exercise in brutal colonialism stealing sacred lands and funnelling indigenous peoples onto lands far from prying eyes. As if to keep them a secret that much longer. The government, and all of Canada have ignored and put off their responsibilities to those we share this country left, exterminating them and their culture.

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As Canadians we are falsely proud of our treatment of others, welcoming people into our countries, our homes, but our treatment of First Nation peoples is a horrendous, and dark secret that mist be dealt with.

Talaga’s investigative book is engagingly written, and is incredibly thought-provoking. We not only as Canadians, but humans, should read this book, and gain an understanding of what is being done. Only by understanding and learning of it, can this dark secret be dragged into the light.

First Nations people deserve all the same rights, protections, and respect that anyone else in this country is entitled to. So why aren’t they?

There are some troubling conclusions suggested in Talaga’s text, including the revelation that all those youth who died of drowning were all accomplished swimmers and the Thunder Bay police would release their ‘no foul play suspected’ statements before a coroner could even give a cause of death. To say nothing of their lack of contact with family members.

The city of Thunder Bay may sound like a horrible place (it does have the highest rate of hate crimes in Canada) but it is a microcosm for something that affects the nation.

We as a society owe it ourselves to read this book, understand what it means, and make the changes so that all Canadians are given the same opportunities. We made an agreement with the First Nations people, and we welshed on it.

And because of that, young people are dying.

Seven Fallen Feathers is a must-read, and is available now from House of Anasi Press.

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