Dene author Katłįà. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Topics: Ethical Living, Oct/Nov 2022 | Culture

‘This House Is Not a Home’ tells a moving story of Indigenous dispossession

Dene author Katłįà's second novel takes you on a journey of courageously reclaiming Dene culture


The story begins on the land. K`o˛ is learning to hunt and trap with his Dene father in the Northwest Territories. Their life in the bush is built on respect for the land and their culture.

Then the redcoats come down the river to collect the children in the community for residential school. Heartbroken mothers cry their anguish at losing their children to the government system.

K`o˛ spends several harsh years in residential school, where he meets his future wife, Ts’1, over the sharing of acorns. After they both eventually leave, K`o˛ returns home to find life in the Dene community is not the same anymore due to a mine slowly taking over the area. Still, K`o˛ manages to regain his hunting skills to survive. He reconnects with Ts’1 and brings her to live with his mother in a humble house at the edge of the water.

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They begin a new life together, sharing and struggling amid all the new changes happening in the community because of the mining. Then comes the day when K`o˛ and his family lose their home. They return from a hunting trip to find it torn down, all their belongings and keepsakes gone.

“His sadness had no home.” This sentence hints at what K`o˛ and his family would face over the next few years. After losing their home, they are forced to live in a government-built house, where they encounter difficult, unempathetic agents and continue to struggle with changes in the mining community. Worst of all is their loss of independence and reliance on the government to survive.

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Written by Katłįà, This House Is Not a Home is the Dene author’s second novel after Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a in 2020. The book was inspired by the true story of a Dene family whose home was bulldozed by the government housing corporation while they were away on their annual hunting trip. Government workers had assumed the cabin was abandoned.

This House Is Not a Home gives readers an insightful look at the realities of life after colonization: the loss of Indigenous culture, the loss of one’s homeland and, most simply, the loss of one’s home. The novel leads you there, but it doesn’t leave you there. Katłįà takes you on a journey of reconnecting with family and courageously reclaiming Dene culture. She takes you back to a warm and lively cabin in the bush.


Vivian Ketchum is a writer and member of the Wauzhushk Onigum Nation. She lives in Winnipeg.

This story first appeared in Broadview’s October/November 2022 issue with the title “No refuge from sadness.”

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