'You have to teach the truth': Tanya Talaga

Tanya Talaga shared tales of love and understanding with the community this week.

The journalist and author was the keynote speaker for a virtual event hosted by Northern College and District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1) for staff, students and community members.

The YouTube Live event Nov. 15 featured the author of Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City and All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward sharing the seven grandfather teachings and how she’s applied them in her own life. The teachings are of humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, respect, truth and love

“Using the seven teachings provides us with a road map for change,” said Talaga.

The fall keynote speaker series is in its third year, and the focus for Northern College and DSB1 has been on Indigenous voices and working toward truth and reconciliation.

Talaga spoke about how her experience covering the inquest into the deaths of Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Paul Panacheese, Robyn Harper, Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morrisseau, and Jordan Wabasse in Thunder Bay that inspired Seven Fallen Feathers, raised a lot of questions for her both as a journalist and as an Indigenous woman.

“I was questioning what was possibly going on in Thunder Bay, why were First Nations children dying in the water, just trying to get a high school education?” said Talaga. “There were no news trucks, there was no massive coverage from coast to coast on the death of these seven youth.”

She said she questioned her place within what was happening.

“What was my role in all this, including as a journalist who was supposed to maintain some objective distance from the stories that I cover?” said Talaga.

Lesleigh Dye, the director of education for DSB1 said that Talaga’s story is important to hear for those that don’t face the same racism and prejudice.

“Her books really personalize the need for us as a society and educational institutions to improve,” said Dye. “Many of us in our organizations are white settlers, so we need to listen and learn with humility.”

Talaga spoke about the conditions in which the Indigenous people in Thunder Bay live, and the racism they face.

“People said the police weren’t racist, the town council wasn’t racist, that Thunder Bay’s racism problem was made up by outsiders, made up by the national media,” said Talaga. “I often think to myself, how many other cities are there like Thunder Bay?”

Dr. Audrey Penner, president of Northern College said that lessons and events like this one are a way to learn and grow into true reconciliation with Indigenous communities and students.

“It’s important to hear the stories, and how important it is for us white settlers to understand what those stories mean,” said Penner. “And that’s the gift that Tanya gives us.”

During the question period after Talaga’s talk, she spoke about the power of words and their importance to reconciliation.

“You need to teach the truth and not sugarcoat,” said Talaga. “It’s important to say what’s actually happened.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com