Dene author Katłįà Lafferty is releasing her third novel, this one with a message about the northern housing system.
Lafferty’s first book, Northern Wildflower, was published in 2018. The memoir told the story of growing up as a Dene woman in the North, dealing with intergenerational trauma, addiction, love, and poverty.
The author’s second book, Land-Water-Sky, tackled colonialism, climate change and domestic violence. Her third book, This House is Not a Home, examines colonialism and the housing crisis in northern Canada, she told Cabin Radio.
Lafferty’s book launch takes place on Saturday from 12pm-2pm at Yellowknife’s public library.
Below, read a transcript of Cabin Radio’s full interview with Lafferty. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Megan Miskiman: What’s your new book about?
Katłįà Lafferty: In a nutshell, it’s about the housing system in northern Canada. I’ve taken inspiration from true events that have happened in the North and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and turned it into a fictional novel that really outlines the way in which the government came in and swept Indigenous peoples away right out from under the rug, their homes, and their ability to be out on the land as much as they wanted to, and incorporated a new way of living that the Dene people weren’t accepting. The housing system is in a crisis right now, and I really wanted to highlight the importance of that from a perspective where you’re actually understanding what a family goes through.
What did the process of writing the book look like for you?
I was doing the edits for Land-Water-Sky, my novel before the new one, and just knew I wanted to keep going. I started with the story of the main character, who basically went out on the land for six weeks in the fall to hunt with his family. When he came back, his home was bulldozed to the ground. That’s actually something that happened to a family I know in the housing system in the 1980s. It really wasn’t that long ago that these things were happening. I wanted to make sure that was out there, and people were being educated in the mainstream public on what’s happening here in the North.
How do you feel your third book is different from the first two?
Well, I guess I’m getting better at it – I hope, anyway! It’s not such a big deal any more, I guess. With Northern Wildflower, everybody made a huge deal of it and that was really accepted. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to be published. It’s not easy, and it was a struggle to get my voice out there, but now that I have this platform, I really have to make sure that I’m responsible about it and – coming from being the chair of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation housing committee, and also growing up in housing – I do have an understanding from the inside. I do know what it feels like from life experience.
What are your hopes for the outcome of the publication of this book?
I just want readers to be educated. The timeline is a bit smushed together, and some people might say: ‘well, you’ve got the timing off,’ but it is fiction, so I’m kind-of allowed to play with that a bit. I wanted to incorporate from the very beginning of when settlers came to the North to the present, just so they can get that real understanding of what it was like for the Dene people here to be dispossessed, and not to feel sorry, but for Indigenous people to feel empowered – to know that there can be change and we can collectively come together and take the land back.
That’s where we’re at now. We’re really looking at Indigenous title, especially in the North. We don’t have reserves here, and so I think it’s been an evolution that’s changed hands over time from the federal government to the provincial government to the municipalities, and it’s about time that we really sit down and look at: ‘where’s the foundation here and who really does have rights to the land?’
What’s your plan for the book launch?
We’re going to have William Greenland, my friend, come and do an introduction and talk a little bit about the housing system from his perspective, and also play us a song, which will be really nice. He plays the flute and is just great. Then I’m going to have another friend, Gail Cyr, who’s going to read an excerpt from the book. She’s a trained actor, so she’s going to be doing a lot of really great reading. Then we’ll probably do a sharing circle to talk about housing.