Talaga's novel is an extremely vivid study into the true lives of Indigenous peoples. How did I incorporate her storytelling & literary elements into my own poem?

At its core, 7 Fallen Feathers is a study into how far humans can go before breaking. In each of the various chapters, Talaga’s main point has been to illustrate the circumstantial specifics that allowed each of the feathers, or children, to drop dead, seemingly out of nowhere and for no real reason. Chapter 4 highlights this core motif by showing the reader the short life of Curran Strang, and depicting the environment of Pikangikum First Nation that eventually led to the massive amount of suicides.

Instead of summarizing one of the characters specifically and drawing surface-level analyses, I decided to emulate the graphic and thematic styles that Talaga uses in the 7 Fallen Feathers, while extrapolating out some of the literary elements that were used in that specific section.

My poem begins by talking about us as individuals—note the specific use of syntax and repetition here; I use the words 'you' and 'us' in these first few stanzas for a reason. Talaga's overarching theme for this novel is the message that privilege matters. The journalist that's depicted doing everything in the actual story is only allowed to (and can do such a good job) report on sensitive issues in Thunder Bay's First Nations community because she understands the gravity of the situation, and understands how her privilege can help further the relations between ethnic identities, and start to repair some of the broken relationships and fundamental disagreements between individuals. To better illustrate this, she uses the idea of contrast extensively throughout the book: from drawing key connections to what schools in our province look like compared to the ones depicted in the book, like DFC to the family lives of the fallen children, being able to literally see the divides that led up to the horrifying deaths really makes the plight of these alienated people obvious for us. Chapter 4 discusses the systemic issues that plague Indigenous people within the context of suicide, and I used the idea of contrast to build up to this point in the first stanza.

I first ask the listener "Who are you?" to draw attention to the identity crisis that First Nations really start to go through when they are shipped off to these different institutions—indeed, one of the largest reasons that was cited for mental health disorders in these communities was the cultural disconnect that they felt in the form of unresolved grief. In that first stanza, I start to talk about the main ways that the system supports us through the investments that have been made into infrastructure for us—in all cases, we’re safe from harm. We can be sure that Canada cares about us. However, this isn’t necessarily the case for First Nations. In that first stanza, I also draw attention to the metaphor of water; for nearly all First Nations communities, water symbolizes life—it is the one big idea that communities are built around, and this is a commonality between nearly all humans. Water is the one thing we all need to survive, and it is nearly always used as a metaphor for life and happiness. However, this meaning is subverted in the novel with the deaths of all the children being found in the water. It's turned into this warped metaphor for changing times, as it is now starting to be used in conjunction with death, not life. I use this to first illustrate how we must all go through the water of our own life, wading through our problems. For us as privileged individuals, the water isn't too deep; we rest on a foundation of systemic investments into our own community.

I use the contrast idea to subvert that even more in the next few stanzas; I immediately go into talking about how that definition of the body of water changes for Indigenous peoples, as they no longer have that foundation (or any at all) of privilege that we rest on. I also use the water as a metaphor for the systemic issues that are discussed in Chapter 4 of alcoholism and drug use, and eventually how they all spiral out into a pressurizing situation, ultimately leading to suicide or death. However, my poem also comes full circle, as it shows how death is liberating in the minds of the highly oppressed. Death represents an exit from the horrifying world made to torture them for eternity. Eventually, they fall so deep in the metaphorical ocean that it is impossible to fish them out, and eventually, the pressure of the water (a symbol for pain and struggles throughout my poem) sucks out the life from them. It's also worth noting that this metaphor rounds off in the summary of Curran's story in the final stanza—he was almost portrayed as the community liberator; the one person that had to make it. Instead, his traumatic past and the various issues he faced in the system meant that he sunk deeper than ever into the pit of despair that his peoples were forced into. With his death, he reappeared floating on top of the water as they found him. The top of the water is where all the privilege lies; the only difference between us and Indigenous peoples is how far we have to go to be able to swim on the surface. Only when Curran died was he able to find the opportunity and beauty of life that lied on the surface—in a sense, only when one dies can they truly live in the sick, twisted world that was created for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Those are the few big literary devices that I used in my analysis of the issues portrayed in Chapter 4, and the summary of the life and death of Curran Strang in my story. At a lower level, I used smaller pieces like consonance and alliteration to draw emphasis on specific phrases and metaphors throughout, along with enjambment to end my sentences early and establish a little bit of tension in the poem.