Catherine Lafferty, a Dene woman from Yellowknife, reflects not only on her life but on broader issues facing some Indigenous people in her debut book Northern Wildflowers: A Memoir.
The book chronicles her experiences from the early ’80s up to the present day. More broadly, Lafferty, 36, uses her life’s story to discuss the impacts of colonialism in the North and the importance of education for Indigenous people to instill confidence and bring stability.
The work also serves as a tribute to her late grandmother, Alice Lafferty, a talented sewer and a former instructor at the Tree of Peace.
“It is a memoir but it pays homage to my grandmother, who was born on old Fort Rae Island just outside of Yellowknife. She is a Dene woman from the North and she had a lot of stories that she passed to me growing up,” Lafferty said during a book launch at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre on Saturday.
The book’s cover reflects Lafferty’s appreciation for her grandmother’s artistic skills as it depicts a Northern wildflower her grandmother drew and beads her mother sewed. By examining her own life, Lafferty explores some broader general themes that she wishes to get across to audiences, particularly young Indigenous women who may have had difficulty growing up in small communities.
“I’m writing for people who feel inspired and that can relate, but I also want to send a message to people that don’t understand what Indigenous people have gone through, especially people in the south that don’t understand what it is like to grow up in a small Northern community as an Indigenous person,” she said. “There are a lot of stereotypes and misunderstandings and if I can help address those stereotypes and shoot them down, then that would be helpful.”
About 40 people attended the launch, which included a 15-minute speech by Lafferty and a question-and-answer session. Initial sales included more than 40 books, many of which Lafferty signed at the end of her event.
Lafferty said there was a lot to learn in writing a book, including a four-year process to develop the idea and then sell it to publishers. Her age was an impediment for one prospect.
“One of the literary agents I sent it to said, ‘Well you’re still pretty young to be doing this – what is the point.?’ They just didn’t get the point,” Lafferty said. “When you think of a memoir, you think of a lifelong history. Yes, it’s a memoir, but it is much more than a memoir. It has different themes in it.”
What makes the book special is that there are few memoirs by Indigenous women in Canada, she said.
She’s publishing at a time when a number of other Northern Indigenous authors have emerged, such as Richard Van Camp, Tanya Tagaq and Siku Allooloo.
Lafferty is the director of Indigenous education and community development with the Dehchinta Centre for Research and Learning. She has two children and a foster child. She’s also a council member with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation council. She’s hoping to write a fictional book based on a Nahga shapeshifter in the future.