Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City
By Tanya Talaga
House of Anansi Press, 2017
Reviewed by Sarah DelVillano
Seven Fallen Feathers, winner of the Indigenous Literature Award this year, is a powerful account of the deaths of seven Indigenous youths in Thunder Bay. It shines a light on each individual story behind the seven fallen feathers of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
Each of the fallen feathers represents young Indigenous students, forced to leave home to pursue education, away from their families – families plagued by the intergenerational trauma resulting from residential schools. Many of these youth were found in rivers, despite being strong swimmers and having lived by the water their whole lives. And all their deaths were deemed accidental by local authorities.
For many settler Canadians, it is very easy to put the legacy of colonialism and the genocidal policy of residential schools behind us, believing these events to be a part of a shameful past in our successful road to reconciliation. The wealth of information presented in this book makes it impossible to deny that systemic and institutional violence, as it relates to colonialism in Canada, are alive and well today. The stories behind each of the seven fallen feathers pick apart these beliefs, slowly but surely, and expose them for what they are. Each child has a family that was failed by the system both before, and after, their passing.
Talaga ends the book with a look at present-day relations. Her work deconstructs the belief that Indigenous peoples and First Nation communities are passive victims of this violence. It is a powerful testament to the resilience of these youth, and a troubling indictment of continued colonial violence in Canada.