Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
Community &Culture: Aboriginal Studies
Published: Sept. 30, 2017. House of Anansi Press Inc.
There is plenty of speculation as to why and how these devastating events played out. Speculation is followed by endless investigations, inquests, and court appearances. All ending with recommendations and plans to be put in order to keep these kids safe in an unwelcoming, hostile, city. But are they ever followed through? No. Because there is always another body pulled from the McIntyre river in Thunder Bay. Another life snuffed out.
Jordan Wabasse, 15-years-old, flew to Thunder Bay in 2010. He was an excellent student in Math and English with future dreams to play for the Maple Leafs hockey team. He was last seen alive getting off the bus a block away from his boarding house in February 2011. His body was found three months later.
Curran Strang, 18 years old, was on a downward spiral for two years before his body was found was discovered in the McIntyre River Sept. 26, 2005.
Paul Panacheese, 21 years old, wanted to do well in school with thoughts about becoming a police officer. Paul wanted better access to education for all indigenous students. But on Nov. 10, 2006, after coming home from a night with friends, Paul’s mom found her son lying on his stomach on the kitchen floor. He had no pulse.
When Jethro Anderson, 15 years old, disappeared, his Aunt called the police only to be told, “He’s just out there partying like every other Native kid.” He was reported missing Oct. 29, 2000, and his body was pulled from the river Nov. 11, 2000.
Robyn Harper, 18 years old, was only a few days into starting her classes when she and a group of friends were out one night. Robyn, who was never a party girl, became inebriated to the point where she couldn’t walk or stand. She was found dead in the inside her boarding house where a patrol team from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School dropped her off.
Reggie Bushie, 15 years old, never liked being alone in the city. Thankfully he was able to live in the same boarding house as his brother, Ricki, who he was extremely close with. After a chaotic night, only Ricki came home. Reggie’s body was found Nov. 1, 2007 – six days after he went missing.
Kyle Morrisseau, 17 years old, was the grandson of the “Picasso of the North” – Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau. Kyle, just like his father and grandfather, would inherit the miraculous talent of painting. When he moved to Thunder Bay, Kyle’s family noticed a change in his behaviour and it was not for the best. He also went missing and his body was pulled from the river in 2009.
Between the year 2000 – 2011, these seven Indigenous teens/young adults left their homes, families and friends to travel hundreds of miles to Thunder Bay, Ont., to obtain a better education. Instead of finding opportunity, what these seven found was much, much worse. Five of the seven corpses would be pulled from the river, and most of their deaths to this day are still labelled ‘undetermined.’ Several factors had a dark role to play. These students were put into a world they were not accustom to, where they had to learn to deal with racism and abuse – fast. This included people hurdling rotten eggs and beer bottles at them in passing cars while they were walking to school or the mall. The resources and support they needed were there but it was limited. The harsh reality is that we failed them. Reading this book will show viewers this, it’s hard to read. It brought me to tears multiple times. This is another important story that should be read. Not only because of the past, but also because of the fact that 17-year-old Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg, 14 years old, went missing the same night in November 2017 in Thunder Bay. Both bodies were found in the McIntyre River within a two-week span. I’ll warn you, this is a book that will bring out sadness, tears, anger, and it will make you question the capability and compassion of those who are the law.
Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.