Bringing a Voice To The Forgotten-Seven Fallen Feathers
Toronto Star investigative reporter Tanya Talaga's investigation into the 2011 death of teenager Jordan Wabasse opened the door for a horror show of questions. Why is there inequality in the standards of First Nations schools. Why was there negligence on the part of the Canadian Government into the disappearance and death of a First Nations' student?
A journalist job is to dig and Tanya is one of Canada’s best. She began delving into ta student death in Thunder Bay and found the broken trail of six more student deaths. The result of that research is her first book, the current #1 non-fiction book in Canada, Seven Fallen Feathers. The explosive expose is shortlisted for the 2018 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.
Racism and discrimination from the government level to the street is an everyday occurrence for Native People in Thunder Bay. In her award-winning book Seven Fallen Feathers journalist Tanya Talaga examines the deaths of seven young people who moved from reservations in Northern Ontario to Thunder Bay to attend high school.
Talaga's journey to uncover their stories shows a nation that is guilty of neglecting their own children and until now getting away with it. The last death took place in 2011; unfortunately the story is as current today as it was seven years ago. One need look no further than this month’s trial concerning the death of Colten Boushie hammers home the injustices that still befall First Nations people.
Jordan Wabasse. Kyle Morrisseau. Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper.
Each of these young people is connected to each other by death. They are all victims of an educational system that is sub-par in a nation that prides itself on its higher learning. They were Canadian children, living in third world conditions on lands that have been destroyed, the reservations. The how and the why of how they died remains a mystery. The cases were plagued by police bias and racial profiling. City authorities closed their eyes and stood still instead of conducting investigations that would have taken place if the victims hadn’t died in Thunder Bay and were not from First Nations communities.
Author Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers brings to light the continuing injustices that First Nations people face every single day, from the broken treaties to governmental promises, she tells the stories of the seven young lives that were lost. Each one of the dead attended Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School(DFC), a private school in Thunder Bay that hosts students from several Sioux Lookout District First Nations reserves.
The stories in Talaga's book “echoes the tragedies that are mirrored across Canada.” The educational issues that children face in Northern Ontario reservations are the same throughout most of Canada. Student funding is in some cases as much as $6,000(per student) less for Native schools than for other schools in the same area. Often First Nations children attend school in classrooms filled with mould, dirty water and a lack of resources. Many youths who want a proper high school education must leave home and family in order to attend Grade 9 and beyond. In Northern Ontario, most students attend DFC.
In each of the seven deaths, the Thunder Bay Police Department failed to notify parents in a timely matter that their children were missing. When the bodies were recovered sub-par forensic investigations took place giving no real detail in how the children died. Considering that several of the boys who died in water were strong swimmers and their bodies were recovered with signs of trauma, it shocking to read that only a basic autopsies were performed on a number of the dead. Currently, Thunder Bay Police are under review for 40 investigations dating back to the 1990s by Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review. Almost all of these new cases deal with Indigenous deaths.
According to Talaga DFC tries to do right by their students. There is an on-site Elder for spiritual guidance and dedicated teachers whose jobs don't end when the final bell rings. Teachers struggle mightly to fit the needs of students whose prior education at the primary level has left them years behind the educational curve.
During the hours between classes many of the young people (most who have never lived away from their families), are on their own. Drugs and alcohol become a part of their lives as they try to fit into a culture that is rife with prejudice.
While the current government administration is working to make improvements for First Nations people Talaga says that “I am hopeful for the future but this will take generations to correct. The education problem is nation-wide, only when First Nations children are treated fairly with equality will this be solved.”
Talaga said that she had no idea how her book would be perceived when she started writing it. She has found that educators are her biggest champions giving praise to her research that shows a shameful side of modern Canada. She asks w how it is that children have been cast aside and made to endure substandard living and educational conditions.
This is a story that every Canadian should be aware of but Talaga has found, “unless you are living the story you don't know the story.” With Seven Fallen Feathers the truth has been brought to life, and the voices of Jordan, Kyle, Reggie, Jethro, Paul, Curran and Robyn are heard long and clear.