Friday, 20 April 2018

Seven Fallen Feathers


Author: Tanya Talaga
Genre: Nonfiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 376
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
First Published: September 30, 2017
First Line: "Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1966, twelve-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, Ontario. 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 minus twenty degrees Celsius 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.

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.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Seven Fallen Feathers examines the little talked about past and present horrors, abuse and neglect facing the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It also reveals the hubris and inertia of the Canadian government regarding present inequities and the atrocities of past governments as they attempted to eradicate the Indigenous cultures from Canada.

This is a work of nonfiction, but it is as shocking and frightening as anything you'll read in fiction. It is a heartbreaking and shameful part of Canada's past and sadly, continues today. Things are not better for many of our fellow Canadians and through our actions (and particularly inaction), this book brings Canadians to task about our failure as a country to support all Canadians.

As a Canadian I've learned some of the history regarding residential schools but obviously not nearly enough. Talaga throws off the blinders and reveals one of our darkest truths - that our country, for generations, attempted to eradicate Indigenous cultures, even using our respected RCMP to rip children out of the arms of their parents, taking them hundreds and thousands of kilometers away from their family, language and culture to 're-educate' them. In essence, get the 'Indian out of them'. The physical, sexual and emotion abuse that was endured, the eradication of some languages, culture and separation from family, has shaped generations of families.

I was brought to tears several times and readers will be shocked by the actions and inertia of government officials regarding missing and murdered teens. Readers should be shocked by the lack of professionalism by the Thunder Bay police force whose disrespect for Indigenous residents and victims, and blatant failure to follow basic laws was appalling. The fact that some parents request for information was ignored and some found out about their children's deaths via the media, instead of directly from law enforcement or the coroner, is inexcusable and utterly disrespectful.

For the content and Talaga's ability to bring these issues back into the Canadian and world consciousness, I'd give this book five stars. While there is no doubt that meticulous research went into the writing of this book, the writing itself isn't strong and often repetitive and my rating acknowledges that. 

Every Canadian should read this book to have their eyes opened to what has happened and shamefully continues to happen in our own country. Whole communities continue, in 2018, to live without safe drinking water, reasonable services like education, accessible health care and to simply be seen as equals by fellow Canadians. This is the Great White North and never before has the shame of such blatant racism and governmental inertia been so glaringly revealed. We are better than this.

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