Books·Canadian

Seven Fallen Feathers

Journalist Tanya Talaga tells the story of seven Indigenous high school students who lost their lives in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Tanya Talaga

In 1966, 12-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, Ont. 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 cold 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.

Tanya Talaga's account of teen lives and deaths in and near Thunder Bay is detailed, balanced and heart-rending.- 2018 RBC Taylor Prize jury

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. (From House of Anansi)

Seven Fallen Feathers won the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Tanya Talaga delivered the 2018 Massey Lectures.

Why Tanya Talaga wrote Seven Fallen Feathers

"I remember being at the command centre during the search for Jordan. It was an overwhelming feeling that this was a deeper story, more than just something for the newspaper. This is something so much more.

It was an overwhelming feeling that this was a deeper story, more than just something for the newspaper.- Tanya Talaga

"I think you have to be emotionally invested and the story of the seven students is pretty close to me for a variety of reasons. I was standing with Stan Beardy at the Kaministiquia River and I remember looking at Mount McKay just looming in front of us. That mountain is the spiritual centre for Fort William First Nation, which is where my own grandmother is from. It was like someone smacked me in the gut — I was thinking about my mother's upbringing here and also about all the First Nation children who had to travel so far away.

"I was thinking about being a mother myself. I can't imagine having to send them 500 kilometres away to go to school. I find it incredibly difficult to fathom that we don't have school for Indigenous kids in their communities. This isn't right. I knew I had to write this book. I had to do it."

Read more in Tanya Talaga's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

You see, the giant Nanabijou made a deal.

The giant spent his days lumbering around Gichigami, the colossal body of water that looked like a sea. He stomped and he stomped and he stomped. His noisy foot-prints created massive valleys and rock faces, cut from the granite and the slate that surrounded the water. 

But he never bothered the Ojibwe, who lived with him in the gorges and forests that he left standing. They had a close existence, full of happiness and peace. On the smooth rock walls near Gichigami's shores, the Ojibwe drew pictographs, telling the stories of their lives for later generations to see.


From Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga ©2017. Published by House of Anansi.

 

Interviews with Tanya Talaga

In 2011, Toronto Star reporter Tanya Talaga went to Thunder Bay to write a story about why First Nation people were not voting in the federal election. But while in Thunder Bay she came across a more compelling, and important story: the deaths of seven 12:17
Investigative reporter Tanya Talaga, on her book about 7 students who left their homes to attend high school in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and ended up dead under mysterious circumstances. 14:35

Other books by Tanya Talaga

 

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