Notes from A Celebration of Northern Authors

June 1, 2021
Claire Kroening, University of Alberta human geography alumna and communications professional 

Congress 2021 blog edition 

Tlicho author Richard Van Camp led a celebration of northern authors in a reading session at Congress. Here, leading Indigenous writers and artists discussed the inspirations for their work and shared excerpts from their published and upcoming pieces.  

Tanya Roach, Inuit writer and throat singer  

“I’ve written since I learned to write my own name,” said Tanya Roach.  

The reading Roach shared came from a story about finding light in darkness. She explained she found her inspiration for the story when a blackout event in her city of Yellowknife led her to reflect on how her northern ancestors maintained light through long, black winters.  

She said the blackout was a humbling experience because she was forced to grapple with her fear of the darkness, and what her fear was telling her. “Learning how to handle fear is a primary lesson in Inuit child rearing,” she explained. 

On how she approaches her writing, she said “I’m a lot more intentional in searching for health-based stories to interrupt toxic dialogue I was fed as a kid growing up in foster care”.  

From the page: 

 “...they would not see how mother nature cleaned and restored humanity, even in complete darkness.”  

Antoine Mountain, Dene writer, artist and residential school survivor 

Antoine Mountain opened by saying he’s “glad to see young writers coming up to represent themselves and their people.” He noted a universal experience for writers, saying “each writer has to go through the same process of looking within yourself to see what it is you have to say.”  

A survivor of the residential school system, Mountain knew what he had to say and what he had to do. He returned to the system to write his book Bear Rock Mountain: The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor, which he read two passages from during the session.  

Katłįà Lafferty, Dene writer  

Katłįà read a passage from her third upcoming novel This House is Not a Home. The excerpt described the moment when the book’s main character, a young boy named Ko, is stolen from his mother and community by missionaries and Mounties to attend residential school.  

Her reading honoured the hundreds of thousands of children forcibly taken from their families and communities and described the experience vividly.  

From the page:  

“She hoped upon his return, his father would band together with others in the community to bring their children home.”  

Dennis Allen, filmmaker, writer and recording artist 

Dennis Allen previewed The White Stetson Hat, a story he wrote in Pidgin English, and for Merle Haggard super fans. The story appeared on the short list for the Writers’ Union of Canada.  

He said, “in the north, we love our country and western music because it gives us agency. The music...they sing about poverty, prison, difficult times, hard times. George Jones, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn. That is how people grew up and that music gives us agency.” 

From the page

“We are going to see Merle Haggard.” 

He takes a long look at Luke. “You take the hat. Tell Merle Haggard I say hello.” 

We thank him and walk out the door before he changes his mind.