Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a By Katłıà

Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a is the debut novel from Dene author Katłįà. Set in Canada’s far northwest, this layered composite novel traverses space and time, from a community being stalked by a dark presence, a group of teenagers out for a dangerous joyride, to an archeological site on a mysterious island that holds a powerful secret.

In a recent edition of Atlantic Books Today, Chris Benjamin stated regarding IndigiLit: “Stories written by people from cultures that have been tied to this land far, far longer than my own show me things settler writers cannot.” A true statement, and one that, for me becomes realized with every book written by an Indigenous writer that I read.

So it was with great interest that I began reading an Advance Reading Copy* of Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a from Fernwood Publications. The author, Katłįà, is a Dene woman from the Northwest Territories in which Land-Water-Sky is set. The time period stretches from “time immemorial” to the present day. It is the extended story of the struggle between wild beings called “Naahga” and the children of Yat’a, the last Sky Spirit to be brought down to earth. It is an eternal fight and one that goes on still, with the Naagha taking different forms (being shape-shifters) and walking amongst us still.

What the author has cleverly affected is to take one of the innumerable legends of her people and shape it into a story that while reproducing the age-old trope of good vs. evil, includes lessons for the present generation. Lessons in particular, for those that have lost their way by losing their culture and their talk. As Katłįà states in her Acknowledgements:

“Our ancient Creation stories are ever-evolving and never-ending. The beauty of our stories is that they continue to be relevant today – from them, we are able to learn who we are.”

The section of the book that concerns the character Deèyah and which begins in the year 2000 is the most fascinating and central to the novel. Deèyah is a young woman raised by foster parents and who for the summer is working at proving the existence of a community’s right to territorial lands by excavating an ancient site. Here. on her own for the first time and doing what interests her, she meets with Sizeh, an Elder, a Dr. Becker (representative of a disinterested white academic seeking a paid summer vacation) and the Gohs a friendly husband and wife. She also meets up with the Naagah, who do not want her around the area they wish to claim as their own. This section of the book carries the story forward, and as it is based on the author’s work on an archeological dig as a teen one summer, it rings strong and true. Deèyah’s awakening to her culture and heeding its call is some of Land-Water-Sky’s most remarkable writing.

While I liked reading Land-Water-Sky from cover to cover, I felt the book could have been so much more. I wanted more. I really would have liked it to be more substantial: more of each person’s back story (such as Deèyah, they often just appear, as we the reader are dropped into their lives), what they faced at home, what made them choose between a bad way (like Nelson and Jack) and a better way, like Deèyeh. Nevertheless, this novelist is off to a good start with Land-Water-Sky and she is definitely an author to watch.

See also  Excerpt: See You Later Maybe Never by Lenore Rowntree

*Note: Land-Water-Sky was released September 24, 2020. You may order a copy direct from the Publisher here: Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a – Fernwood Publishing

  • Paperback : 176 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 177363237X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773632377
  • Product Dimensions : 15.24 x 0.64 x 22.86 cm
  • Publisher: Roseway Pub (Sept. 24 2020)

A Brief Interview with Katłıà (Catherine Lafferty)

TMR: Can you tell us where the idea to write a work of fiction around an Indigenous story came from?

This novel originated from a short story that I wrote after a surreal experience I had when I visited my grandmother’s homeland a few summers ago. I fictionalized the events and the story really started taking on a life of its own. That’s when I realized the storyline was too big for a short story. The characters were waiting to come alive. I took a lot of inspiration from the stories and legends that I heard about growing up and I wanted to bring some of those stories to life in today’s world and place these characters in situations where they realize that they are heroes in their own right and have their identity slowly comes into existence.

What is Land-Water-Sky’s takeaway for:

  1. Indigenous readers? I want Indigenous readers to identify with at least one of the characters, no matter what gender they are young or old, and recognize some of the dangers that they need to watch out for, dangers that our grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, and cousins warned us about. I want Indigenous readers to feel empowered and find a sense of a familiar place that they can go to when they are reading. 
  2. White settler readers? I want them to understand that the north is a place full of rich stories. That our stories are strong and true, that we live in a magical place that is often forgotten by the rest of the country, and in a way that is okay because it’s sacred land that should be respected.

We hope you continue to write similar novels. Is that in the works, or do you have something else in mind for your next project?

I am making plans to have Land-Water-Sky be the first part of a trilogy or series of novels that delve further into each character. Each character would have their own novel dedicated to them. I would like to start with the Elder, Sizeh. I have begun the process of piecing together his storyline to tell his life story and interweave it between his appearances in Land-Water-Sky. However, at this time, my next project is a fictional novel that is based on the housing system in the Northwest Territories and how it has deeply impacted Indigenous peoples by dispossessing them from their own land. One of the characters in Land-Water-Sky makes an appearance in the novel which is called “This House is Not a Home” but I’ll leave it up to the readers to figure it out (I like leaving “Easter eggs” for readers to uncover). 

Thanks, Katłıà!

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Bill Arnott
August 29, 2020 12:59

Another excellent review and interview! Kudos James.