Northerners Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty and Isis Essery, along with her sister Rhiannon White, walked away with writing awards from NorthWords NWT’s weekend event titled Gather, which celebrated literature.

“Oh, it feels great because the NWT is my home and the book is set in the North,” Lafferty said regarding her award. “(It’s) an honour.”

RELATED REPORTING: Catherine Lafferty releases first novel with Land-Water-Sky

Lafferty took home the prize for Adult Book Award, along with $1,000 in prize money for her novel titled Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, which was published in 2020.

Meanwhile, Essery and White earned the Youth Book Award for I Love You More Than The North Is Vast, which was also released in 2020.

“I didn’t expect that at all,” said Essery. “It’s a real honour to be recognized like that. There’s so many great authors in the North, so it’s just nice to be recognized and to be among them. It was a great, great surprise.”

Isis Essery, holding a copy of I Love You More Than The North Is Vast, was the recipient of the NorthWords NWT’s Youth Book Award handed out at the organization’s Gather event on Saturday, April 2. Photo courtesy of Isis Essery

Lafferty’s Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, a 170-plus page novel, also received a nomination for an Indigenous Voices Awards in 2021.

RELATED REPORTING: NWT authors make shortlist for Indigenous Voices Awards

Despite being unable to accept the NorthWords’ award in-person at the Elks Lodge on the evening of April 2 due to schooling conflicts, Lafferty, who’s attending the University of Victoria for her fourth year of law, had prepared an acceptance speech.

“It is an honour to receive an award from the place where I am from,” she wrote. “Thank you to NorthWords for continuously acknowledging my work. This award represents my home, which makes it that much more special. This is also the first award I have ever received for my writing — other than when I was in Grade 5 and wrote a short story about something I can’t remember. All I know is that it won a small prize, but that one doesn’t quite match up to this!”

Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, published in 2020, is the second literary work released by Katłįà ‘Catherine’ Lafferty. NNSL file photo

Lafferty’s book initially started as a non-fiction short story that she wrote while she was at her grandmother’s home one summer.

However, through the writing process, it would eventually progress from non-fiction into the realm of fiction.

“I took the truth and I kind of twisted it around and played with it, and exaggerated the truth until it kind of grew into something that was much larger than the short story and I just kept going with it,” she said. “A lot of the stories in it are centered around certain important themes like child apprehension in the foster system in the North, and in Canada, pretty much. Then there’s also the theme of land dispossession and corporate corruption, corporate greed.”

The book also serves as a homage to Lafferty’s grandmother’s homeland.

“The cover’s where my grandmother was born. It’s an island in the Great Slave Lake called Nishi Island,” she said. “So I just poured my heart into it. It has a lot of significance throughout.”

As for the winners of the Youth Book Award, Essery wrote I Love You More Than The North Is Vast while White illustrated it, following the birth of Essery’s first child.

“It just kind of came into my head,” said Essery. “Then, so Rhiannon is my sister, and she’s an incredible illustrator, so I asked her if she would illustrate it for me.

“Then, I’m a graphic designer, so we kind of worked together on the design and put it all together,” she continued. “It was really a collaborative process, so it was really great working with my sister, and it’s just a really fun little project for us.”

The book follows different types of children, as well as “different types of love” and where that can come from.

“So love can come through your parents, grandparents, friends, family,” Essery said. “So it’s just cute little rhymes about how much this child is being loved through Northern types of rhymes, I guess, and imagery.”

Looking to what the future holds for the writers, Lafferty is aiming to complete her law school studies before heading back to the North. Essery would like to write another book with her sister.

“We definitely talk about it all the time,” Essery laughed.

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