Finalist, 2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist, 2017 Speaker's Book Award
Finalist, 2018 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.
More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.
Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.
A portion of each sale of Seven Fallen Feathers will go to the Dennis Franklin Cromarty Memorial Fund, set up in 1994 to financially assist Nishnawbe Aski Nation students’ studies in Thunder Bay and at post-secondary institutions.
Tanya Talaga has been a journalist at the Toronto Star for twenty years, covering everything from general city news to education, national health care, foreign news, and Indigenous affairs. She has been nominated five times for the Michener Award in public service journalism. In 2013, she was part of a team that won a National Newspaper Award for a year-long project on the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. In 2015, she was part of a team that won a National Newspaper Award for Gone, a series of stories on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She is the 2017–2018 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy. Talaga is of Polish and Indigenous descent. Her great-grandmother, Liz Gauthier, was a residential school survivor. Her great-grandfather, Russell Bowen, was an Ojibwe trapper and labourer. Her grandmother is a member of Fort William First Nation. Her mother was raised in Raith and Graham, Ontario. Talaga lives in Toronto with her two teenage children.
a book that can benefit everyone
[A]n urgent and unshakable portrait of the horrors faced by Indigenous teens going to school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, far from their homes and families. . . . Talaga’s incisive research and breathtaking storytelling could bring this community one step closer to the healing it deserves.
Lively . . . In exploring the universe of swearing, [Byrne] has lined up some nifty stories.
This story is hard and harrowing, but Talaga tells it with the care of a storyteller and the factual attention of a journalist. She makes the difficult connections between this national tragedy and the greater colonial systems that have endangered our most vulnerable for over a century, and she does it all with a keen, compassionate eye for all involved, especially the families who are too often overlooked. These stories need to be heard. These young people deserve nothing less than to be honoured everywhere.
In Seven Fallen Feathers, Tanya Talaga delves into the lives of seven Indigenous students who died while attending high school in Thunder Bay over the first eleven years of this century. With a narrative voice encompassing lyrical creation myth, razor-sharp reporting, and a searing critique of Canada’s ongoing colonial legacy, Talaga binds these tragedies — and the ambivalent response from police and government — into a compelling tapestry. This vivid, wrenching book shatters the air of abstraction that so often permeates news of the injustices Indigenous communities face every day. It is impossible to read Seven Fallen Feathers and not care about the lives lost, the families thrust into purgatory, while the rest of society looks away.
You simply must read this book. Tanya Talaga has done the hard work for us. She sat with the families, heard their stories. Now, with the keen eye and meticulous research of an uncompromising journalist, she is sharing their truths. We have to start listening. Parents are sending their children to school in Thunder Bay to watch them die. Racism, police indifference, bureaucratic ineptitude, lateral violence — it doesn’t have to be this way. Let this book enrage you — and then demand that Canada act now.
Seven Fallen Feathers may prove to be the most important book published in Canada in 2017. Tanya Talaga offers well-researched, difficult truths that expose the systemic racism, poverty, and powerlessness that contribute to the ongoing issues facing Indigenous youth, their families, and their communities. It is a call to action that deeply honours the lives of the seven young people; our entire nation should feel their loss profoundly.
Seven Fallen Feathers is a must-read for all Canadians. It shows us where we came from, where we’re at, and what we need to do to make the country a better place for us all.
Seven Fallen Feathers is achingly blunt in confronting recurring damage that must be repaired. The book puts a human face to the headline statistics, reveals the continuing harm of unequal educational opportunity, and delivers the evidence of systemic racism in Canada with an insistent voice. Tanya Talaga draws the reader into communities of hurt and flawed responses surrounding the deaths of seven Indigenous students, the ‘fallen feathers.’ Talaga yanks at the reader’s complacency with her story of separated families, untethered youths, and the seemingly unbridgeable distance between cultures. She offers painful lessons while courting hope.
What is happening in Thunder Bay is particularly destructive, but Talaga makes clear how Thunder Bay is symptomatic, not the problem itself. Recently shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, Talaga’s is a book to be justly infuriated by.