Photo: Sean Stiller/Spirit to Soar
Mashkawi-Manidoo Bimaadiziwin Spirit to Soar Text Shadow

When journalist Tanya Talaga first took a drive with then Nishnawbe Aski-Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy to the shore of the Kaministiquia River, 10 years ago, she knew exactly where she was. She was directly across from Animikii Wajiw, thunder mountain on Fort William First Nation, her grandmother’s community. And this is where Jordan Wabasse, 15, was believed to be last seen. It is also where his body was found in spring, 2011.

    Sometimes stories find you. They grab you - they don’t let you go. The voices of the past, of your ancestors, whisper loudly in your mind that this is the story you must tell because once you have heard the story, you cannot unhear it. The duty becomes yours.

Photo: Sean Stiller/Spirit to Soar

Thunder Bay is a city blessed with some of the most beautiful geography on Turtle Island. The city is beside the world’s largest freshwater lake, Gichigami, or, Lake Superior, cut out tens of thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers. Thunder Bay is also home to some of the most ugliest forms of racism in North America.

Spirit to Soar, Mashkawi-manidoo bimaadiziwin is a one-hour documentary inspired by Tanya Talaga’s book, Seven Fallen Feathers. The film looks at how the book came to Talaga, when she travelled to Thunder Bay as a newspaper journalist on a federal election assignment, but discovered instead the story of seven First Nations high school students who had either died or gone missing from 2000 to 2011. This documentary examines the hard truths around the deaths of the seven students, truths the northern city of Thunder Bay and the country of Canada, have long ignored: Racism kills, especially when it presents itself as indifference.

Spirit to Soar is a closer look at what has happened in the wake of the inquest into the student’s deaths, of how families and communities have struggled to carry on while pursuing justice for their loved ones and equity for First Nations People, and, it looks at Talaga’s own journey of trying to make sense of her role here. At its heart, this film is a story of the strength and bravery First Nations youth face every single day, when they walk out the front door and head to high school in a country that has tried to erase them. We are still here and thriving.

At the inquest into the deaths of the seven First Nations students who died while going to high school in Thunder Bay, educator Norma Kejick, left, was present every day. Time and time again, she heard the seven student’s family’s say no one ever told the mother’s what was happening in the investigations into their children’s deaths. Here, Norma is pictured with Rhoda King at the memorial of Reggie Bushie, 15, one of the students who never made it home.

Photo: Wendell Collier/Spirit to Soar

Photo: Wendell Collier/Spirit to Soar

Poplar Hill First Nation student Reggie Bushie was in Grade 9 when he disappeared in Thunder Bay in fall, 2007. The fifteen-year-old student went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. His body was found in the McIntyre River on Nov. 1, 2007.

Photo: Sean Stiller/Spirit to Soar

First Nations students from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay sing with the band July Talk at the Wake the Giant concert, held down by the city’s water front. The concert attracted rock bands from across Canada, who came together to welcome the students back to Thunder Bay. Most of the students come to Thunder Bay to go to high school because there are no high schools in their communities 500 or 600 km away.

Every year, Nishnawbe Aski Nation staff and leaders, along with teachers from the two First Nations high schools in Thunder Bay, take the students out hunting so they can connect with the land, remember their language, customs and who they are. This practice started after the inquest into the deaths of seven students. Author Tanya Talaga hunts with them, as they all return to where her mother’s family is from.

Photo: Sean Stiller/Spirit to Soar


Tanya Talaga


Author, public speaker, producer, director, journalist and storyteller. Tanya Talaga’s mother’s family is from Fort William First Nation and her father was Polish-Canadian. For more than 20 years, she was a journalist at the Toronto Star covering everything from health to education, investigations and Queen’s Park. She’s been nominated five times for the Michener Award in public service journalism and been part of teams that won two National Newspaper Awards for Project of the Year. Her first book, Seven Fallen Feathers, is a national bestseller, winning the RBC Taylor Prize, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, and the First Nation Communities Read Award: Young Adult/Adult. The book was also a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and the BC National Award for Nonfiction. Her second book, All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward, is also a national bestseller, finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize and a finalist for the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. Talaga was the 2017–2018 Atkinson Fellow in Public Policy and the 2018 CBC Massey Lecturer, the first Anishinaabe woman to be so. Talaga founded Makwa Creative Inc., a production company focused on amplifying Indigenous voices through documentary films, TV and podcasts. She holds an honorary doctorate from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Michelle Derosier


Michelle is Anishinaabe from Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation in Treaty 3 Territory in Northwestern Ontario. She is a mother, grandmother, artist, activist and filmmaker. Michelle has always lived and practiced in the north and has been making films for nearly 15 years. She has screened internationally at Sundance, Traverse City and ImagineNATIVE, to name a few. Her first short animation, the Grandfather Drum, was selected to screen at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. In 2017, Michelle completed her first dramatic feature film, Angelique's Isle, co-directed with Montreal filmmaker Marie-Helene Cousineau. Angelique's Isle has screened at festivals internationally and aired on CBC. Her recent works include directing an episode for a new APTN 13-part documentary music series called Amplify the Fire, which aired in October 2020. Her short documentary "Audrey's Story" premiered at the 2020 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival. Michelle is working on a new documentary feature.


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