Ndè-Tı-Yat / Terre-Eau-Ciel by the Dene author will become a graphic novel

For Katłįà, Catherine Lafferty, writing is about connection to self, healing, community and culture.

Her novel Terre-Eau-Ciel / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a was born from an experience the author lived at her grandmother’s birthplace, Nishi Island on Great Slave Lake.

She first wrote it as a short story, partly based on Dene legends and stories. It became a young adult novel, published by Fernwood Press in 2020, and is now visually translated into a graphic novel by artist Neal Shannacappo.

Shape-shifters, folklore, and spiritual experiences are woven through six figures that give the work its structure in six parts instead of chapters.

The novel covers the themes of domestic violence and climate change, as these are issues that affect its readers, Katłįà said.

“When I was writing Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, I thought there must be my language in it,” Katłįà said. Its language is wılıı̀deh Yati. Katłįà is a member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories.

“I always want to try to integrate my language as much as possible.”

Neal Shannacappo shares this perspective.

Shannacappo is of Nakawe descent from Ditibineya-ziibiing (Rolling River First Nations) in Manitoba.

“The French called us Saulteaux,” he says. “My mother always says, ‘we are part of the Ojibway nation but we are not Ojibway.’”

Shannacappo is a graphic novelist and poet.

“My own comics contain a mix of anti-heroes and traditional heroes, and all of them are indigenous,” he said. It is the first time that he will work to transform someone else’s novel into a graphic novel.

“I think it’s going to be visually stunning,” he said, especially around character interactions with supernatural beasts.

Shannacappo is eager to portray Ndè-Tı-Yat’a’s worldview when the world was young.

“I love showing off Indigenous culture, so I always try to incorporate culture into art,” he said, bringing in Indigenous themes or elements in a natural and fluid way.

“One thing I don’t do about cultural things is I don’t explain it,” Shannacappo said. He gives an example in one of his stories when a character gets smeared.

It’s shown, “but it doesn’t sound like a big, massive monologue about why it smears, the purpose of smearing. It just does it,” Shannacappo said.

Through his work, Shannacappo emphasizes the importance of Indigenous languages ​​when choosing not to include translations.

“If a dialogue is in Anishinaabemowin, I don’t translate it. I just leave it. I think the reader is smart enough and has internet access. They can find the translations if they want.

“This is what I want to bring out when the children see our languages ​​in the book. They’ll think “that’s awesome” and they love it, but it’s not explained. ”

Shannacappo pushes back the expectations of Indigenous creators to explain their work, when non-Indigenous books are filled with their culture without any explanation required.

“I don’t think we should explain. I don’t think we need it. We can just be native and have it on the books and celebrate it. ”

During their process, Shannacappo asked Katłįà what the characters might look like.

She says she wrote without concrete descriptions, leaving the characters to the imagination of readers.

Shannacappo received a few descriptions, but it was open for its own interpretation.

“I didn’t put a lot of detail on the characters and their appearance at all, so he can run with them,” Katłįà said. “I’m just going to trust the process and believe it knows what it’s doing. Can’t wait to see what they look like.

For Shannacappo, writing has strong visuals to work from. “For me, it’s like reading a movie. It’s just the way she does it. It has a cinematic feel.

It’s a style Shannacappo uses for his own graphic novels, and he appreciates how “you have a very specific idea of ​​what the author is trying to make you use your imagination.”



Katłįà says she makes an effort to write as clearly as possible.

“Writing can get very complicated very quickly,” she said. “What really takes a lot of skill is to write something that everyone can understand.”

The novel moves in time in a non-linear fashion. Shannacappo can’t wait to figure out how to communicate this.

Katłįà says the novel ends openly, so she’s curious how Shannacappo will express that.

“The ending has a lot of great actors,” so she’s thrilled to see how they appear together on the page.

Speaking out against injustice is a strong theme in Katłįà‘s life, both in her reporting – she has been a columnist since the age of 16 for Northern News Services Ltd., and has written for IndigiNews, The Briarpatch and others. media – or in law school through the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Juris Doctor program.

“We must first find out the truth on the matter before we can go anywhere else. And to get the truth, we have to talk about it and bring it to light, ”Katłįà said.

“And then together we can heal.”

Katłįà believes in the importance of writing from lived experience and believes that it can help in healing, for the writer and the reader.

Katłįà experiences loss and trauma. “I couldn’t write about these really hard truths if I hadn’t lived them,” she said.

“I was tossed around in foster homes for a while and almost got lost in the system before my grandparents could take me in.

“Our family has suffered a lot of trauma from colonialism in general, being displaced from our original lands and raised in poverty,” she said. “For a long time, I didn’t have a bed. I slept on the floor on a pile of blankets.

“I take it everywhere with me. So many native children know what it looks like and it can really break a person. ”

“I wrote the story of my life and it was a way for me to heal,” she said.

Katłįà has been a writer since childhood. He was still there, she said, even though she didn’t always recognize him. His first published writing, Northern Wildflower, was writing his own story. She received comments from others that it helped them; readers who have experiences in common.

Northerners, Aboriginal youth, especially young women, and her own children are always on her mind when she writes.

“I keep them in mind and how important they are to young people today. We need to give them a good message, an empowering message.


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