The groundbreaking and multiple award-winning national bestseller work about systemic racism, education, the failure of the policing and justice systems, and Indigenous rights by Tanya Talaga.
Over the span of eleven years, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They were hundreds of kilometres away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no adequate high school on their reserves. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning author Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.
About the author
TANYA TALAGA is the acclaimed author of Seven Fallen Feathers, which was the winner of the RBC Taylor Prize, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, and the First Nation Communities READ: Young Adult/Adult Award; a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and the BC National Award for Nonfiction; CBC’s Nonfiction Book of the Year, a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, and a national bestseller. Talaga was the 2017–2018 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy, the 2018 CBC Massey Lecturer, and author of the national bestseller All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward. For more than twenty years she has been a journalist at the Toronto Star and is now a columnist at the newspaper. She has been nominated five times for the Michener Award in public service journalism. 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. She lives in Toronto with her two teenage children.
- Short-listed, B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-fiction
- Long-listed, CBC Canada Reads
- Commended, National Bestseller
- Commended, Globe and Mail Top 100 Book
- Commended, Chatelaine 20 Best Books of 2017
- Commended, Walrus Book of the Decade
- Commended, CBC’s Nonfiction Book of the Year
- Winner, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
- Short-listed, J. W. Dafoe Book Prize
- Commended, National Post 99 Best Book of the Year
- Short-listed, Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
- Winner, First Nation Communities Read: Young Adult/Adult
- Short-listed, Speaker's Book Award
- Commended, Indigo Best Book of the Decade
- Winner, RBC Taylor Prize
Excerpt: Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City (by (author) Tanya Talaga)
It’s early April and the 2011 federal election is in full swing. All over Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are duking it out with Jack Layton’s New Democrats and the struggling Liberals in a bid to win a majority government.
I’m in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to see Stan Beardy, the Nishawbe-Aski Nation’s grand chief, to interview him for a story on why it is indigenous people never seem to vote.
The receptionist at the NAN’s office greets me and ushers me into a large, common meeting room to wait for Stan. Everything in the room is grey — the walls, the tubular plastic tables, the carpets. The only splash of colour is a large white flag with a bear on it that has been tacked to the wall.
The Great White Bear stands in the centre of a red circle, in the middle of the flag. The white bear is the traditional symbol of the life of the North American Indian. The red circle background is symbolic of the Red Man. His feet are standing, planted firmly on the bottom line, representing the Earth while his head touches the top line, symbolic to his relationship to the Great Spirit in the sky. The bear is stretched out, arms and feet open wide, to show he has nothing to hide.
There are circles joining the bear’s rib cage. They are the souls of the people, indigenous songs, and legends. The circles are the ties that bind all the clans together.
These circles also offer protection. Without them, the ribcage would expose the great bear’s beating heart and leave it open to harm.
Stan walks in and greets me warmly, his brown eyes twinkling as he takes a seat.
Stan is pensive, quiet, and patient. He says nothing as he wearily leans back in his chair and waits for me to explain why exactly I flew 2,400 km north from Toronto to see him and talk about the federal election.
I launch into my spiel, trying not to sound like a salesperson or an interloper into his world, someone who kind of belongs here and kind of does not. This is the curse of my mixed blood. I am the daughter of a half-Anish mom and a Polish father.
I ramble off abysmal voting pattern statistics across Canada, while pointing out that in many ridings indigenous people could act as a swing vote, influencing that riding and hence the trajectory of the election.
Stan stares at me impassively. Non-plussed.
So I start firing off some questions.
It doesn’t go well. Every time I try to engage him, asking him about why indigenous people won’t get in the game and vote, he begins talking about the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Jordan Wabasse.
It was a frustrating exchange, like we were speaking two different languages.
“Indigenous voters could influence fifty seats across the country if they got out and voted but they don’t. Why?” I ask.
“Why aren’t you writing a story on Jordan Wabasse? He has been gone seventy-one days now,” replies Stan.
“Stephen Harper has been no friend to indigenous people yet if everyone voted, they could swing the course of this election,” I continue, hoping he’ll bite at the sound of Harper’s name. The man is no friend of the Indians.
“They found a shoe down by the water. Police think it might have been his,” replies Stan.
This went on for a good fifteen minutes. I was annoyed. I knew a missing Grade 9 indigenous student in Thunder Bay would not make news in urban Toronto at Canada’s largest daily newspaper. I could practically see that election bus rolling away without me.
Then I remembered my manners and where I was.
I was sitting with the elected grand chief of 23,000 people and he was clearly trying to tell me something.
I tried a new tactic. I’d ask about Jordan and then I’d swing around and get him to talk about elections.
Then Stan said: “Jordan is the seventh student to go missing or die while at school.”
Stan says their names: “Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper. Kyle Morrisseau. And now, Jordan Wabasse.”
He then tells me the seven were hundreds of miles away from their home communities and families.
Each was forced to leave their reserve simply because there was no high school for them to attend.
“Going to high school is the right of every Canadian child,” says Stan, adding that these children are no different.
Tanya Talaga investigates the deaths of seven Indigenous teens in Thunder Bay — Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morrisseau, and Jordan Wabasse — searching for answers and offering a deserved censure to the authorities who haven’t investigated, or considered the contributing factors, nearly enough.
Talaga’s research is meticulous and her journalistic style is crisp and uncompromising. . . . The book is heartbreaking and infuriating, both an important testament to the need for change and a call to action.
[W]here Seven Fallen Feathers truly shines is in Talaga’s intimate retellings of what families experience when a loved one goes missing, from filing a missing-persons report with police, to the long and brutal investigation process, to the final visit in the coroner’s office. It’s a heartbreaking portrait of an indifferent and often callous system . . . 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.
[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.
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.
Globe and Mail