Centuries of oppression and dispossession have deprived Indigenous peoples of the ability to exercise their fundamental human rights. As a result, Native groups are among the most disadvantaged, destitute, and frequently mistreated elements of society in every continent globally. Indigenous populations in Canada, for example, bear a disproportionate burden of illness compared to the non-aboriginal population. These health inequities are primarily the effect of government policies aimed at assimilating Native groups into Euro-Canadian lifestyles. These policies have led to physical and psychological harm to children, school dropout, loss of cultural background, and disconnection of family structures. The books Seven Fallen Feathers by Talaga Talaga and The Break by Katherena Vermette respectively highlight the racial abuse and discrimination that indigenous people in Canada face.
In the book Seven Fallen Feathers, the author illustrates cases of missing children. For instance, the case of Curran Strang, an 18-year-old male student at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High school in Thunder Bay, mysteriously disappeared (Talaga, 2021). Curran had been failing in academics, drinking alcohol, and facing disciplinary measures. Unfortunately, the Northern Nishnawbe Educational Council in Thunder Bay, overburdened and overstaffed, could not “catch” Curran and pull him out of his downward spiral (Talaga, 2021). Curran vanished on September 22, 2005, and while acquaintances claimed he had passed out intoxicated near one of the city’s waterways, the authorities disregarded him as a “fugitive” (Talaga, 2021). Curran’s corpse was discovered in the McIntyre River on September 26; his demise was never examined except as an accidental drowning. The Thunder Bay Police’s apparent disinterest in finding the facts behind Curran’s mysterious death demonstrates how white Canadians’ decades of racism and cultural destruction continue to influence Indigenous communities across the country. The coroner’s office officially classified his demise as accidental after determining that he drowned.
Talaga also describes the case of Paul Panacheese in her book. Paul died unexpectedly in 2006 after fainting on the ground of his mother Maryanne’s kitchen following a night out with several friends (Talaga, 2021). Several members of Paul’s family, notably his mother’s sister Sarah, were victims of Canada’s harsh and deadly residential schools program. Hence, when Paul moved away to school in Thunder Bay and struggled to keep up, Maryanne relocated to the town to protect and assist him (Talaga, 2017). Paul’s untimely death, for which the coroner found no discernible reason, left Maryanne and the rest of the Panacheese family in shock. The coroner’s office discarded any documents that may have been used to determine a cause of death shortly after Paul’s death. However, an autopsy was conducted by the coroner, which indicated no foul play. Consequently, the case was closed, leaving Maryanne and Paul’s family with no answers to why his life was disrupted.
To remedy the defects of authorities, it is essential to develop a national committee to investigate the killings and abductions of aboriginal women, children, and girls. Moreover, the investigation’s terms and conditions should be developed with input from communities affected and include an investigation of the ongoing and historical correlation between the police and aboriginal women and girls. Occurrences of significant police misconduct and indigenous women and girls’ structural socio-economic marginalization should also be monitored closely.
Indigenous communities should put efforts that work towards addressing discrimination and violence they face. Leaders from native groups should design and execute a national strategy to combat crime against aboriginal children, women, and girls. The strategies should identify the underlying structural causes of the problem and the transparency and cooperation of government agencies tasked with violence prevention and response. Additionally, members of the aboriginal communities should investigate allegations of profound police misconduct such as rape and other sexual assaults by appointing independent civilian investigators in every jurisdiction.
In the book The Break by Katherena Vermette, the author writes about a severe rape case of a young indigenous girl. In the face of tragedy and hardship, the book emphasizes the significance of family. Stella, a character in the novel, witnesses a little girl named Emily being raped (Vermette, 2017). Emily’s suffering demonstrates the extent of physical and sexual assault faced by indigenous women and girls. Stella recalls her high school acquaintance Elsie being sexually assaulted at a party. When Stella and Lou proceed upstairs to hunt for their friend, they make a startling discovery: Elsie was the first thing they spotted when they approached the corner (Vermette, 2017). A large hand pushed Elsie’s gorgeous curly hair up against her face (Vermette, 2017). Later in the novel, the narrative depicts the horrific ramifications of Elsie’s anguish on successive generations. The tale takes a sharp turn when evidence mounts that Elsie’s daughter, born during the encounter, is the assailant (Vermette, 2017). This is an odd occurrence because the individual who perpetrated the offense was a product of their surroundings.
Similarly, Cheryl recalls the physicians’ lack of duty for her sister Rain. The doctor had refused to treat or look at her head injury after being battered. “They didn’t even look; they assumed she was another alcoholic and was unconcerned” (Vermette, 2017). This inability to see to care for another’s pain precipitates Rain’s demise that evening, as she walks through the frigid weather with a head injury (Vermette, 2017). Cheryl is traumatized and disturbed about the events of that day when the doctor refused to treat her sister.
The narrative culminates concerning the land, specifically with a ceremony held south of town. Emily “continues to move while hobbling, and even here, accompanied by her relatives, she lies coiled like a turtle prepared to flee” (Vermette, 2017). Emily has been in agony as a result of the assault, as evidenced by her limping gait. The novel’s last pages depict both the community’s vastness and its ongoing pain—as Cheryl observes, “They are already so shattered, could they possibly break any further?” (Vermette, 2017). Emily’s healing appears to be inextricably linked to these two interlinked activities, ceremony, and assembly, as does the healing of her relatives and friends, who her unhappiness and their burdens have crushed.
There are many challenges faced by indigenous women and girls in Katherena’s novel. She investigates the societal circumstances that lead to violence and prejudice against indigenous women and girls. Indigenous women and young girls who have been missing or murdered are featured in the novel. When it comes to dealing with issues involving indigenous peoples, white police personnel show little interest. Although the victim’s blood can be seen, Christie, a white officer skeptical of her narrative, does not accept it (Vermette, 2017). Christie does not want to believe that a young woman has been raped.
Stella is a pivotal character in the narrative since she witnesses a young woman’s assault. She is confident that a young woman has been raped and does not hesitate to contact the police. However, she feels guilty and disturbed for being unable to assist the assaulted woman while standing petrified at the window watching the incident. Similarly, Lou observes an incident of rape committed against a little girl named Elsie. Indeed, both Lou and Stella, nephews, were present when this young girl was raped (Vermette, 2017). While Lou screamed at the young guys and attempted to cover Elsie’s body with a blanket, Stella focused just on Elsie’s face, still crushed into the cushion, her mouth wide open, and her hair soaked.
Throughout the novel, Lou is depicted as someone who consistently continuously looks at others, a technique that the narrative portrays as beneficial and even therapeutic for the individual. White men’s brutality and attack on Lou’s companions have left them in a state of trauma. Lou, for example, says Ziggy’s face was bandaged up. Yet, look at other people and ask them what they are going through, and you will see a miracle. Lou uses the way she looks at other people to assess their well-being and how she can best take care of them. As a result, Lou is a character who gives others room to care about them.
The books Seven Fallen Feathers and The Break explores the sociopolitical acts of violence, racism, and segregation that aboriginal communities face, especially the women and young girls. Additionally, the book illustrates how officials fail to conduct proper investigations on victims of rape or violence. Such disinterest by police officers is only shown when the victims of assault come from the aboriginal communities. Ultimately, the books also show a strong bond between the aboriginal communities when supporting and caring for each other.
Talaga, T. (2021). Seven fallen feathers: Racism, death, and hard truths in a northern city. Scribe.
Vermette, K. (2017). The Break. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.