Dene author Katłıà Lafferty launching new novel in Yellowknife Thursday

Katłıà Lafferty launches Firekeeper at the Yellowknife Public Library Thursday at 5:30 p.m. (Submitted by Katlia Rafferty - image credit)
Katłıà Lafferty launches Firekeeper at the Yellowknife Public Library Thursday at 5:30 p.m. (Submitted by Katlia Rafferty - image credit)

Dene author Katłıà Lafferty says her new book aims to tell Indigenous stories differently.

Firekeeper is a coming-of-age story about a neglected teen girl named Nyla who grows up in a small northern town, is incarcerated for arson, and begins to reconnect with herself with the help of a community-based diversion program.

Lafferty said she wanted to tell Nyla's story because many young Indigenous women are made to feel that they can't express themselves authentically.

"We're told we're supposed to act a certain way and be a certain way," Lafferty said.

"And Nyla is a bit of a complicated character, so I wanted to show that you can be many many things and still be loved, have self-love."

Themes of justice

Firekeeper is Lafferty's fourth book, her third novel, and the follow-up to her 2022 work, This House is Not a Home.

She has been studying law in Victoria, B.C. and is currently preparing to write the bar exam.

She tries to incorporate themes of justice in all of her books in some way, she said.

In the case of Firekeeper, Nyla is incarcerated, and the book captures how the criminal justice system fails Indigenous people, she said.

"What really ended up helping was the fact that she went into community," Lafferty said.

"So through diversion, she was guided by an elder. And that's the pivotal moment in the book where she sort of starts to understand why she is the way she is, and the self-healing journey begins."

Making literacy accessible

Lafferty has been trying to get the book into women's prisons, she said, because it's important for literacy to be available to everyone.

Indigenous women are over-represented in the prison system, and they might see themselves in the story, she said.

She wrote the novel at around a Grade 6 reading level because she understood that people who are incarcerated often have low levels of literacy, she explained, and she tries to make her work as accessible as possible.

"The character can't read, and I kind of made her that way for a reason – to show reading is a privilege," Lafferty said.

"And so we should be doing more to try to get books into the hands of people that are incarcerated, that have had those struggles that you see Nyla facing."

Lafferty launches the book Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Yellowknife Public Library.