November 18, 2018

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Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, And Hard Truths in a Northern City

Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, And Hard Truths in a Northern City

Imagine not having access to education in your community and you have to send your children hundreds of kilometres away from home to attend high school. This is what many remote northern Indigenous communities face. In the words of former Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy; “Going to high school is the right of every Canadian child, but these children have been treated differently, their needs forgotten in a country that prides itself on having one of the best education systems in the world”. This system forces children to leave their families and communities to go live in the big city where they experience rampant racism, powerlessness, bureaucratic indifference, lateral violence and even death.

Anishinabe Author and Toronto Star reporter, Tanya Talaga does an excellent job at telling her readers the hard and harrowing truth behind a national human rights tragedy that even I, as a First Nations woman, was ashamed to read about. Seven Fallen Feathers serves as a wake up call to all Canadians and is a must read.

Between the years of 2000 and 2011 seven Indigenous high school youth from remote northern communities were forced to move to Thunder Bay from their home communities to pursue their high school education. Shortly after their arrival, they were each found dead in the rivers flowing into Lake Superior. Though problems plagued these youth upon their move to Thunder Bay, the tragedy surrounding the circumstances of their deaths should never have happened if proper support had been put in place for them. Most of the youth, upon their move to Thunder Bay, had to live with strangers in boarding homes where their ‘boarding parents’ were paid by the school to house the students. The ‘parents’ were under no obligation to supervise the youth at night, eat with them, help them with their homework, or get them involved in any after school activities.

Seven Fallen Feathers explores the affects of colonialism and intergenerational trauma with a student experience that is reminiscent of residential schools, where students were forced to leave their families and made to leave their language and culture behind or have it beaten out of them. Today youth from remote northern communities face serious issues which include: social exclusion and racism alongside abject poverty, food insecurity, lack of access to clean running water and sewage systems. These issues have manifested cycles of addiction and physical and sexual abuse.

It is infuriating to read about how First Nations youth face an onslaught of abuse at the hands of a few in the community of Thunder Bay, namely the police with their indifference to those who went missing and their ineptitude towards trying to solve the issues they were confronted with. Seven Fallen Feathers is a timely book. On March 05, 2018 Indigenous leaders including Grand Chiefs Francis Kavanaugh, centre, and Alvin Fiddler called on the city’s police chief J.P. Levesque to resign or for the police services board to fire him in the wake of a report that slammed the local force for its handling of a 2015 death investigation of an Indigenous man. http://thefirstnationscanada.com/2018/03/calls-mount-from-indigenous-leaders-for-thunder-bay-police-chief-to-resign/

House of Anansi Press: https://houseofanansi.com/products/seven-fallen-feathers

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About The Author

Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith is a Saulteaux woman from Peguis First Nation. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Aboriginal Studies and with a Masters in Education in Social Justice in 2017. Her story, “Choosing the Path to Healing” appeared in the 2006 anthology Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, and a creative non-fiction piece titled “As A Child” was published in Yellow Medicine Review in 2008. “Mother: An Essay” was published in Yellow Medicine Review Spring 2011, and her poem titled, “I Remember” in xxx ndn, a book of poetry published by the Aboriginal Writers Collective of Manitoba. Miskonoodinkwe has written for the Native Canadian, Anishinabek News, Windspeaker, FNH Magazine, New Tribe Magazine, the Piker Press and MUSKRAT Magazine.

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