Tanya Talaga grew up feeling like she lived in two different worlds.
The bestselling author spent most of her childhood, in the 1970s and ’80s, living just outside of Toronto. But every summer her family would visit the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation in northern Ontario, where her mother grew up and where many relatives still live. Talaga’s father was Polish and her mother was Anishinaabe, raised by residential school survivors.
“It was a time where you didn’t hear a lot about First Nations stories,” Talaga told HuffPost Canada. “We didn’t have APTN. There wasn’t CBC Indigenous. There was no Idle No More, no social media. That’s how I grew up.”
Now a successful journalist and author, Talaga is dedicated to telling those stories herself. Her new Audible.ca podcast “Seven Truths,” which launches Wednesday, focuses on the Seven Grandfather Teachings that guide the Anishinaabe people: love, bravery, humility, wisdom, honesty, respect and truth.
Each episode is dedicated to one of the teachings, and each focuses on different people with stories to share. Many take place in and around the northern Ontario community where Talaga’s mother lived.
The episode on bravery is about the Indigenous students who travel up to 600 km south to go to high school in Thunder Bay, because they don’t have access to education at home. Many have to leave their families when they’re just 12 or 13, and they face the threat of violent racism in a city with the highest murder rate in Canada, where the majority of people murdered are Indigenous.
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Talaga speaks with students and staff at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, a Thunder Bay school specifically for Indigenous youth. And while racism is a very real threat to many of the people she talks to, many of the students are thriving academically and are determined to make the world safer and happier for Indigenous people.
“We always hear about the trauma that is passed on through generations,” the school’s principal Sharon Angeconeb tells Talaga. “But we also have the bravery that is passed on.”
Guiding Talaga through the stories is Sam Achneepineskum, an Elder from Marten Falls First Nation. He names the seven truths in Anishinaabemowin, the Anishinaabe language.
“He explains the truth in our language, and that to me is super cool,” Talaga said. She didn’t grow up speaking the language, but she’s started learning some words from Sam. A few days before we spoke, he sent her the Anishinaabemowin names for the Great Lakes.
I meant to show the resiliency of our people in every single one of the teachings, and it just shines through.” Tanya Talaga
There’s lots of darkness in “Seven Truths.” One episode focuses on racism in the health-care system, another on the death of Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman who died in Thunder Bay after she was hit by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving car.
But the series also includes examples of joy, of self-discovery and of self-expression. There are the teenagers in Thunder Bay, who “do the remarkable thing of just going to high school in a city that doesn’t exactly want them there.” There’s Lucille Atlookan, an artist from Eabametoong First Nation, who founded Neechee Studio, which offers free art workshops to Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay.
That balance is a deliberate one, Talaga said. “I meant to show the resiliency of our people in every single one of the teachings, and it just shines through.”
The podcast’s intro states that spreading Indigenous stories “can help us all one day find common ground here on Turtle Island, so we can work towards the just society promised to all of us when treaties were signed.” Talaga hopes the podcast’s audience will include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“You don’t have to be an Anishinaabe person to live your life every single day by the seven teachings,” she said. “If you were to think about all of those things every day as you woke up and turned on your Zoom, or made breakfast for your kids or walked out the door — wouldn’t Canada be a better place?”
The episode on humility, which features artist Lucille Atlookan, is one that can be particularly illuminating to non-Indigenous people. The reason Atlookan founded her own art collective is because she had a somewhat rocky experience when she tried to join another art group.
That group’s founder, Lora Northway, is featured in the episode, where she takes a clear-eyed, accountable approach to the blind spots she had, and the pain she inadvertently caused Atlookan and other Indigenous artists, despite her good intentions. “Lora is representative of a lot of non-Indigenous people, thinking that they’re woke and thinking that they’re doing all the right things, and then having to re-think,” Talaga said.
The episode takes a patient, empathetic approach to people who want to be allies, but who don’t always get it right: “There is room for all of us here on Turtle Island. You just have to know when to take a hard look inward, and step aside. That is the ultimate act of humility.”
Talaga is looking forward to getting the series out into the world.
“I hope that everyone loves these episodes as much as I do, and takes them to heart,” she said.
“I hope next time that they see a First Nations person who’s demonstrating for a lack of clean water, or the next time they see a homeless Indigenous person, they’ll think about where we’ve been, and Canada’s true history, and how we need to change the narrative in order to make this country a better place.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.