June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, CityNews will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.
June 11: Today, we celebrate Tanya Talaga
Journalist and author Tanya Talaga starts off today’s piece in her own words:
“My name is Tanya Talaga, my mother’s family is from the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation, on the shores of Gichigami or Lake Superior. My father was Polish. I grew up in the Toronto area, completely removed from where my mother and all our mothers before her walked. Growing up I never felt like I fit in anywhere, no one was like me, no one had aunties and uncles and cousins in the bush. My friends’ families didn’t go moose hunting or fishing, they didn’t snare rabbits. But when I went north with my mom for summer holidays and visits, I felt at home, accepted. Being on the land, amidst the birch trees and the giant rocks surrounding Gichigami, spoke to me. I belonged and that is where I feel most peaceful and myself.”
Talaga worked as a journalist at the Toronto Star for more than 20 years. Talaga was a general reporter before joining the Queen’s Park Bureau in 2009. In 2011, Talaga pitched a story a federal election story to her editor about why Indigenous people didn’t historically vote in elections. That story sent Talaga to Thunder Bay where Stan Beardy, the grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), asked her if she knew about the disappearance of a boy named Jordan Wabasse. He had been missing for 70 days. It was this question that led Talaga to investigate the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students from Thunder Bay. Their names were Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Paul Panacheese, Robyn Harper, Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morrisseau and Jordan Wabasse. In 2017, Talaga shared their stories in her award-winning book, Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City.
“I don’t want to talk about reconciliation. I want to talk about rights.” – Tanya Talaga, All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward
When asked what Talaga hopes people will take away from reading Seven Fallen Feathers, she said: “I hope people read Seven Fallen Feathers and realize that children are children, no matter what colour their skin is or where they are from.”
“Children deserve an education, access to health care, they deserve to live with their parents or someone who loves them, ticks them in at night and tells them they belong. By reading [the book], people honour the Seven Fallen Feathers and their memories. We all must work to make sure all of our children are treated equitably in this country. Our children belong here, they are precious and deserve every chance all other children do.”
In 2018, Talaga released her second book All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward. In the same year, she was asked to be the speak at the 2018 CBC Massey Lectures. She was the first Ojibwe woman to deliver this annual five-part national series, where she documents the legacy of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples that has a correlation to the rise in youth suicides in Indigenous communities. Talaga was also chosen for the 2017-2018 Toronto Star Atkinson Fellowship for All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward.
“We all must work to make sure all of our children are treated equitably in this country.”
Click here to learn more about Tanya Talaga and her books.