Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga wins $25K Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing

The jury for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize said that this book "is a crucial document of our times, and vital to the emergence of a true vision of justice in Canada."
Tanya Talaga highlights the lives of seven Indigenous students in Seven Fallen Feathers. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/House of Anansi)

Tanya Talaga has won the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for her book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City, which the jury called "a crucial document of our times." 

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize is awarded annually to a book of political nonfiction that "has the potential to shape or influence thinking."

Talaga's book explores racism in northern Ontario through the lives seven Indigenous teenagers, who died in Thunder Bay while forced to attend high school hundreds of kilometres away from their families. The seven high school students, Jordan Wabasse, Kyle Morrisseau, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie and Jethro Anderson, died between 2000 and 2011.

"Tanya Talaga's powerful book is a hard-hitting story of the realities of Canadian racism, complicity and Indigenous suffering. It is also a testament to the resilience of the Anishinaabe families who endure the crushing impacts of historic and contemporary injustices," said the jury, composed of Taiaiake Alfred, Joseph Heath and Kady O'Malley, in a press release.

"In spare prose and a direct voice, Talaga documents the tragedies of the lost lives of Indigenous youth while creating a compelling narrative that educates the reader on the sad history of Indigenous-White relations."

Earlier in 2018, Talaga's book won the RBC Taylor Prize for Nonfiction.

She will be delivering the 2018 CBC Massey LecturesAll Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward, which will examine how cultural genocide — including the loss of land and languages — has caused a suicide crisis in Indigenous communities.

The other finalists were Christopher Dummitt for Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life, CBC Radio host Carol Off for All We Leave Behind: A Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others, Sandra Perron for Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer and Ted Rowe for Robert Bond: The Greatest Newfoundlander.

Past winners of the prize include Kamal Al-Solaylee for Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone), Richard Gwyn for Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times and  Roméo Dallaire for Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

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