Book Review: Seven Fallen Feathers

By Sarah DelVillano

From the Catalyst, Summer 2018

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.

  • Sarah DelVillano

    Sarah was first introduced to CPJ during her practicum placement with Canada Without Poverty, where she worked briefly on the Dignity for All campaign. Sarah’s passion for social justice became entrenched during her studies at Carleton University. She is especially interested in systematic injustices and the effects these injustices have on marginalized groups within Canada and beyond. This includes a special interest in power relations and remedial strategies. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Rights and Social Justice, combined with a double-minor in Anthropology and Political Science. This unique, interdisciplinary combination has helped Sarah achieve a broader understanding of the cultural, political, and rights-based components of complex socio-economic issues. Sarah is also passionate about the legal components of social justice and has been pursuing a law degree at the University of Ottawa since completing her time with CPJ.

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